Tag Archives: Rebecca Crankshaw

Toast
★★★

The Other Palace

Toast

Toast

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

 


Toast

The Other Palace until 3rd August

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Eugenius! | ★★★★ | February 2018
Suicide | ★★★½ | May 2018
Bromance: The Dudesical | ★★★★ | October 2018
Murder for Two | ★★★★ | December 2018
The Messiah | ★★★★ | December 2018

 

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com

 

My White Best Friend

My White Best Friend
★★★★★

The Bunker

My White Best Friend

My White Best Friend (and Other Letters Left Unsaid)

The Bunker

Reviewed – 20th March 2019

★★★★★

 

“Using the word show seems a bit weird. It wasn’t really a show. It was an event, a sharing.”

 

Yesterday evening at The Bunker felt unlike any evening I’ve ever spent in a theatre, and as such, I felt it was right to write about it in a totally different way. I’ve introduced an I for starters, and so I’m going to introduce myself too. I’m a cis, pansexual, middle class white woman, aged 48. It feels essential to let you know this, as the series of evenings which Rachel De-Lahay and Millie Bhatia have curated put identity centre stage – racial identity, class identity, sexual identity and gender identity – and one of the things that last night made very clear, is that we can only view things through our own identity prism. So the old myth of the invisible critic just won’t wash.

The Bunker felt like a club last night. Buzzy. There was an excellent DJ, we were all standing, and we were offered a drink (rum and Ting, delicious) when we walked into the space. It was a young crowd and it looked and felt and sounded like London; like the London that is outside, that we journeyed through to get there. Which felt great. And made me realise how rare that is. There were knots of friends chatting, predominantly people of colour, and a sense of relaxed ownership, a comfortable knowledge – this night is for us, and about us – which I could only share from the edges. And that feeling taught me something, even before the show began. Even using the word show seems a bit weird. It wasn’t really a show. It was an event, a sharing.

Rachel De-Lahay’s idea is a simple one: different writers leave a letter to be read out loud by a specific performer. The letter is in a sealed envelope and the performer reads it live, having never read it before. The evening kicks off with a long letter that Rachel wrote to one of her best friends, Inès de Clercq, and it is Inès who reads it. The letter is honest, and funny and uncomfortable for Inès to read, as it is a reminder that no matter how much Rachel loves her, her race can’t help but play a part in their relationship. It is uncomfortable for any white person to hear, to witness, to think about, and that’s the point. The young woman standing in front of me was completely overwhelmed by tears half way through this reading, and, throughout the night, the electricity of words being spoken that are so often, too often, left unsaid, was palpable. There was a charge; the air crackled with it. Of urgency, of energy, of presence.

The next letter was written as a piece of spoken word poetry. Fantastic writing by Jammz; it also dealt with race in friendship, and Ben Bailey Smith (‘I’m mixed race, so I’m my own white best friend’) was direct and charming, and did the words justice. The final, and longest letter of the evening was written by Zia Ahmed and read by Zainab Hasan. This took a different form again, with Zainab reading out a selection of quotes – from Zia himself, from the Home Secretary Sajid Javid, from popular Muslim comedians – before reading Zia’s unbearably painful story of continual racist profiling which led him finally to stop his job as a nanny.

It went against the grain to give this show a star rating, as the words and stories of these artists and performers don’t need my critical validation, but they do need to be listened to. So consider my five stars a way of saying that this is essential theatre. Get yourself a ticket and open your ears.

 

Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography courtesy The Bunker

 


My White Best Friend (and Other Letters Left Unsaid)

The Bunker until 23rd March

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Section 2 | ★★★★ | June 2018
Breathe | ★★★★ | August 2018
Eris | ★★★★ | September 2018
Reboot: Shorts 2 | ★★★★ | October 2018
Semites | ★★★ | October 2018
Chutney | ★★★ | November 2018
The Interpretation of Dreams | ★★★ | November 2018
Sam, The Good Person | ★★★ | January 2019
Welcome To The UK | ★★ | January 2019
Boots | ★★★★ | February 2019

 

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