The Other Palace
Reviewed – 9th April 2019
“Mrs Potter’s lemon meringue garnered a round of applause all of its own. As Bake Off’s success testifies, the Brits do love a cake.”
Nigel Slater’s autobiography was published to critical acclaim in 2003, and quickly went on to become a best-seller, further cementing Slater’s place in the nation’s heart. It was adapted into a film, shown on the BBC in 2010 before its cinema release a year later, and The Lowry last year commissioned this stage adaptation, which has landed at The Other Palace after a successful Edinburgh run at the 2018 festival. For those not already familiar with the events of Slater’s childhood – for it is this that Toast takes as its subject – he grew up in 60s suburban England, with a loving mother and a distant father. His mother died of asthma when he was still at school; his father remarried, to a woman who he didn’t like, and died a few years later, finally freeing him up to move to London and pursue the love of food and cooking that had always been with him, from his very earliest years.
The first thing to say about Toast is that it looks gorgeous. Scrumptious even. Good enough to eat. Libby Watson’s production design hits the perfect nostalgic notes, and Zoe Spurr’s ever-excellent lighting design is a superb demonstration of what lighting can do to lift and enhance the action on stage, and act as a subtle emotional guide for the audience. It was also a nice touch to enter with the smell of burnt toast in the air. And it felt right to see the young Nigel finally do some proper cooking at the end, wielding his knife like a pro, as the gorgeous smell of garlic in olive oil wafted out into the audience. The moments in which trays of sweet treats were handed out to the audience were less successful however, and an example of a device which might well have worked in a festival atmosphere but seemed forced and stilted in a London theatre. The cakes on stage were a different story though. Mrs Potter’s lemon meringue garnered a round of applause all of its own. As Bake Off’s success testifies, the Brits do love a cake.
We also love a bit of nostalgia. And this show unashamedly taps into that desire. There are some slickly choreographed movement sequences to enjoy, as you would expect given director Jonnie Riordan’s Frantic Assembly background, but they are essentially fillers, padding out a very straightforward A-Z linear structure, which is almost wholly driven by the young Nigel’s narration. Giles Cooper was clearly suffering from Press Night nerves last night, and will almost certainly warm into his performance as the run continues, but he has a hard task nonetheless, as he is basically the neutral narrative anchor around which the theatrical action pivots. Lizzie Muncey (Mum), Stephen Ventura (Dad), Marie Lawrence (Joan) and Jake Ferretti (Josh) all give polished, professional performances, but the show as a whole fails to get beneath the skin. There are laughs aplenty, particularly for those audience members of a certain age, for whom Nigel’s memories particularly resonate, but the more soulful moments are lost in the saccharine confection of the whole. There is an awful lot of sugar in this show; if you don’t have a sweet tooth, it’s probably not for you.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Photography by Simon Annand
The Other Palace until 3rd August
Previously reviewed at this venue: