Toast is the theatrical adaptation of an autobiography by food writer Nigel Slater (it was previously a BBC film with Helena Bonham Carter). Slater’s food writing tends to both glorify and demystify good food. The title of this show is taken from his homage to toast – plain, white with butter - his love for the taste, and those who make it for him.
In this sense, the Lowry Production of his story is true to Slater’s writing – both sentimental and reverential about food. When I received the tickets they included an ingredients list – ‘How quirky’, I thought, assuming it would be information on the cast. In fact, it was literal ingredients – of the food that would be handed round during the show.
I was intrigued - being fed seemed a great opportunity to enjoy a show with more than the usual couple of senses. Indeed, the smell of burnt toast greeted us as we filed into the auditorium.
Sadly, rather than trying the jam tarts that Nigel and his mother lovingly made together in the opening scenes, the audience were instead handed rather lacklustre bags of sweets - by the time a bag made it to us it included only Black Jacks (licorice is the one flavour I don’t like).
This clunky prop seemed unintentionally fitting as, like a jam, for me the show didn’t quite set. The sugary-sweet scenes between Nigel and his mum felt not real enough to be genuinely affecting but not uplifting enough to be thoroughly entertaining. Subsequent scenes revolved around 1960s/70s food nostalgia which, like any nostalgia, had the ability to exclude as much as include - anyone not familiar with that time was left feeling like they missed the joke. Later, when tragedy befalls his family, the show seemed to sidestep any deeper exploration, instead jumping incongruously from violence to competitive cooking.
The show was directed and choreographed by Jonnie Riordan and there was no doubt about his skill and the physical ability of the cast but the dancing seemed too quickly picked up and put down, like an overly hot mince pie.
Overall, Toast contained many good ingredients – bringing taste and smell to the theatrical experience, captivating movement, impressive lighting – but, for me, it felt a little too heavy on nostalgia and too light on substance. Those who’d read Slater’s book may have been able to fill in the missing elements with ease, but for those coming to it fresh, it felt like something that needed a bit more time in the oven.