Toast (4 stars)

This article is from 2018


Evocative and moving memoir of Nigel Slater's childhood isn't half-baked

In a kitchen containing the vomit-orange, off-cream and brown colour scheme so beloved of sixties and seventies Britain, lives a young, gauche Nigel Slater (Sam Newton) his adored mother (Lizzie Muncey) and tyrannical, uptight father (Mark Fleischmann). Such 'exotic' culinary delights as spaghetti, and a cocktail of soul classics locate this autobiographical drama in the sixties. This slightly surreal production, tenderly adapted from the book by Henry Filloux-Bennett, lies somewhere between food porn and sad-eyed adult fairytale. It is a true feast for the senses – garlic mushrooms are cooked in real-time, and characters burst into eccentric dance routines, or enter sliding out from a large fridge.

Newton invests Slater with immense likeability and fragility. The loss of his mother is heartbreaking and the subsequent failure of his father in coping with the grief is manifested in his violence towards the boy. There are witty, inventive interludes: a gendered sweet quiz; a moment for the audience to eat a free chocolate as Slater's father describes in almost sexually suggestive detail how he eats his. Bawdiness is never far away – young Slater often walked in the woods where he discovered people having sex in cars; the acid-tongued step-mum Joan (a hilarious, bouffanted Marie Lawrence) is presented as near-orgasmic when cleaning, and the evangelical glee of a cookery teacher making custard is incredibly saucy.

Yet it's the small, understated touches that feel most visceral. The maternal love baked into Christmas cakes, the transcendent nature of certain songs and Slater's first tentative forays into romance with Stuart (Jake Ferretti) a young ballet dancer cut deep into the soul. Of course, the homophobia and sexism of the era are present, but these moments are executed without mawkishness or self-pity. It's an affecting and sweet tale with sharpness and heart, and not cloying enough to give toothache.

Traverse Theatre, Aug 8-26 (not 14,20) times vary, £21.50 (£16.50)

Nigel Slater's Toast

Theatrical version of celebrity chef Nigel Slater's award-winning autobiography, told through the tastes and smells he grew up with.