BWW Review: TOAST, The Other Palace
The pretense begins as the audience walks into the auditorium. It's the moment when the warm smell of toast, nearly-burnt to perfection, hits their noses that the good-hearted and fluffy nature of Toast reveals itself. Basing it on Nigel Slater's homonymous memoir, Henry Filloux-Bennett bakes a play with enough nostalgia and hopefulness to feed a crowd.
After enjoying a first run at The Lowry in Manchester last year, Slater's formative years are now entertaining foodies and thespians alike at The Other Palace. Director Jonnie Riordan makes it a communal experience, playing into Filloux-Bennett's lack of fourth wall and including the public into the experience.
From pick'n'mix to Walnut Whips, they distribute little pieces of sentimental Britain around, making sure everyone gets a taste of Slater's past. The rustling of wrappers, passing of plates, and murmurs of appreciation accompany the characters while Giles Cooper's little Nigel paints a picture of his family.
His relationship with his mum (Lizzie Muncey) is cemented from the start: the young boy basks in her presence as they make jam tarts and mince pies, Muncey's love pouring to her boy like flour falling from sift to bowl. Paternal threats of violence follow his beloved mother's sudden death, and the rivalry between Nigel and Joan (Marie Lawrence) is then kicked off.
The show is a colourful celebration of food and the comfort that comes with it. Libby Watson's 60s joyful set design moulds along as it follows Riordan's choreography, engaging the audience's imagination as the action moves from the Slaters' family house, to restaurants, new homes, and kitchens.
Cooper holds the storyline, leading the plot securely with tongue-in-cheek addresses to the audience, his strong charisma negating the slight weirdness brought in by seeing an adult dressed and treated as a 9-year-old boy.
He projects his naivety and curiosity into the crowd, showing an appreciation for the small things in the world and drawing a connection between food and the happenings of one's life.
As his mum, Muncey delivers a heartbreaking performance. Protective and supportive, her maternal influence is a strong fil rouge in Nigel's life even after her sad demise. Her spirit echoes in other prominent figures in the boy's life with Riordan's clever double casting.
Jake Ferretti steals the scene every time his characters step on stage. From the gardener to Nigel's friend, his physicality and delivery is compelling in its silliness. The company convey a stable cohesiveness in skills, seeing Slater's story through to his pivotal teenage years and big leap of faith.
The participative dimension of the piece and scents used throughout the evening declare its triumph, helping to turn it from an autobiographical cheesy play to a true sensory experience.
Photo credit: Simon Annand