Guest Blog: Director Jonnie Riordan On NIGEL SLATER'S TOAST

By: Mar. 28, 2019
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Guest Blog: Director Jonnie Riordan On NIGEL SLATER'S TOAST
Nigel Slater with the cast and
creative team of Toast

Nigel Slater's Toast has always been a show that punches above its weight. When [writer] Henry Filloux-Bennett first pitched the show to me, it was supposed to take place in the function suite normally reserved for weddings and events at the top of the Lowry in Salford, a small, intimate performance with the audience sat all around the space.

Thanks to a couple of withdrawals from the Week 53 Festival programme from some very well-known companies, we suddenly found ourselves on the main Lyric Stage (which is enormous) with the flexibility to create our own auditorium on the stage itself. An exciting, but massively daunting opportunity.

The best part of Toast has been working with the team. I met [designer] Libby Watson on the work equivalent of a blind date; I only meant to talk to her for 45 minutes, but we found ourselves still talking two hours later, and I left the meeting knowing that I couldn't do this without her.

We made a rule to ourselves that whenever we talked about the show, we would make sure we were treating ourselves to some nice food. I have to admit this mostly fell on Libby, as we always met in her kitchen.

One morning, I arrived feeling ill with a cold. I was pushed into a seat while she made a potent smoothie - "I'm sorry if it's a bit thick, I threw the broccoli stem in too, that's where all the good stuff is!" It was either that or the ginger, but I floated out of that meeting without a tickle in my throat, but instead a dropbox full of drawings and photos that have now become our quirky little design world.

Months before rehearsals, it felt like I had listened to only music from the 50s, 60s and early 70s. My Spotify Discover Weekly playlist gave up on suggesting contemporary tracks, and I'd made a definitive list of my favourite songs and their release dates.

Toast's composer and sound designer Alexandra Faye Braithwaite is responsible for summoning nostalgia and gently tugging on your heartstrings. The sound design places you instantly in the era, but sometimes makes you feel like you're looking back at an old photograph. Very organically, tracks found a home within the show, but retrospectively we found out the spooky fact their release dates matched up almost perfectly with the life event we were presenting in the play.

It doesn't matter how many times I hear the pieces of music found and created for the show, I love each and every one of them. Alex only once had to wisely move me away from a track, when I called her up saying I'd solved a section - "We should use Boston's 'More Than a Feeling'," I said. The long pause was broken by the words "You mean a song like 'More Than A Feeling'!"

Just after my first ever chat with Henry about making Toast I was stood in a friend's kitchen. Blu-tacked onto one of the kitchen tiles was a photograph by Philip-Lorca diCorcia titled Mario. It's a man staring into the depths of a fridge lit mostly by the glow of it, and I saw this vast amount of sadness.

It was one of the first images I shared with Henry and the inspiration behind the opening of Act Two. The glowing light from the fridge is a recurring image in the show. Zoe Spurr has designed the lights to, at times, burst into the bright candy colours of a child's imagination, and at other times show us the faded, vignetted edges of an old photograph.

It was clear early on that we would not use props unless they were absolutely essential - knowing that the prop list of essentials would easily become extensive! One thing we had to get right was the look and feel of the ingredients used on stage. Cakes, tarts and pies needed to appear and make you salivate.

Food director James Thompson - a pretty unique creative title in theatre - is responsible not only for delivering tasty treats to the audience at select moments in the play, but also so that the food you see on stage is worthy of a Nigel Slater cookery book image.

Now we find ourselves in our last week of rehearsals before Nigel Slater's Toast has its third outing, this time in the heart of London. I can't wait for audiences to see Libby's beautiful, playful set, magnified by Zoe's lighting, with Alex's score hanging beautifully in the auditorium and a mouthful of tasty treats all designed to take you straight back to your childhood - or your parents or maybe even your grandparents. "Get the rolling pin out."

Nigel Slater's Toast at The Other Palace 4 April-3 August


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