“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.
Production images have been released for Marius von Mayenburg’s Plastic which will run at Theatre Royal Bath’s Ustinov Studio until Saturday 25 March.
The production will star Brenock O’Connor as Vincent, Charlotte Randle as Ulrike, Steve John Shepherd as Haulupa, Jonathan Slinger as Michael and Ria Zmitrowicz as Jessica. Plastic has been translated by Maja Zade and is directed by Olivier Award nominee Matthew Dunster.
Michael and Ulrike are on the brink. Michael is a doctor, with ambitions of heroic grandeur; Ulrike, his wife, is assistant to the infamous Serge Haulupa, a bizarre conceptual artist; Vincent, their teenage son is hitting puberty with a vengeance – and a video camera; Jessica Schmitt is the new cleaner thrust in to clean up their mess. Utter pandemonium ensues when Serge invites himself to Michael and Ulrike’s house to make art over dinner. The food fight is just the start of it…
Brenock O’Connor is best known for his role as Olly in Game of Thrones and Peter Cratchit in Dickensian. He also starred in the UK Tour of Oliver! as The Artful Dodger.
Charlotte Randle’s recent stage credits include Mary in Yerma (Young Vic), Medea (Almeida Theatre), Public Enemy (Young Vic) and Birdland (Royal Court). Television credits include Father Brown, The Trials of Jimmy Rose and Silent Witness.
Steve John Shepherd is best known for his role as Michael Moon in EastEnders. Theatre credits include The Good Canary (Rose Theatre Kingston), Bomber’s Moon (Trafalgar Studios) and Albion (Bush Theatre).
Jonathan Slinger was most recently seen as Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Theatre Royal Drury Lane). Extensive credits for the RSC include the title role in Hamlet, Parolles in All’s Well That Ends Well and Prospero in The Tempest.
Ria Zmitrowicz’s notable television credits include Miss Ellis in ITV’s Mr Selfridge and Jodie in Channel 4’s Youngers. Theatre credits include X (Royal Court), Four Minutes Twelve Seconds (Trafalgar Studios) and The Crucible (Royal Exchange Theatre).
Marius von Mayenburg is a trail-blazer for contemporary European theatre. In 2007 his play The Ugly One opened at the Royal Court to critical acclaim and in 2015 Martyr opened at the Unicorn Theatre.
Matthew Dunster is an Olivier Award nominated Director and Associate Director at Shakespeare’s Globe. Recent productions include Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen (Royal Court; Wyndham’s Theatre), Liberian Girl (Royal Court), plus The Seagull and A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.
Plastic is the first production in The German Season at the Ustinov Studio, which will present the UK premieres of two acclaimed plays from celebrated German writers. The season will conclude with Daniel Kehlmann’s The Mentor starring Academy Award-winner F. Murray Abraham. Directed by the Ustinov Studio’s Artistic Director Laurence Boswell and translated by Christopher Hampton the production will run from Thursday 6 April to Saturday 6 May.
By Marius von Mayenburg In a translation by Maja Zade Directed by Matthew Dunster
Thursday 23 February – Saturday 25 March 2017 | 7.45pm, Matinees Thu & Sat 2.30pm