Having been previously berated, and rightly so, for snacking noisily during theatrical performances, to then be presented with not just a handful of retro pick ‘n’ mix sweets but a Walnut Whip (with precise consumption rules attached) to boot, at the opening night of Nigel Slater’s Toast, the production was always going to get our vote.
Sweet treats aside, this bittersweet tale of childhood, family life and food did not disappoint.
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Based on Nigel Slater’s award-winning gastronomic memoir Toast – The Story of a Boy’s Hunger, a big hit in the West End hit has already delighted London audiences and now it’s the Playhouse audiences turn.
It follows the story of Nigel’s early love of food and cooking under the watchful, but not entirely expert, eye of his mother.
It is also a tale of a perfect family life that is then shattered.
His memories of this painful time are punctuated with recipes from Marguerite Patten’s Cookery In Colour – a book that became a rapid bestseller when first published in 1960.
Indeed, it is food and cooking that helps him overcome the major challenges he faced then, and continues to do so.
Toast, the ultimate comfort food obviously plays a major part, and as audiences enter the auditorium there is a definite aroma of slightly burnt toast hanging in the air.
Readers of Nigel Slater’s weekly food column in The Observer will be familiar with his curiosity and fascination for the details of the small, human moments of cooking and eating that are the hallmarks of his writing.
The stage production of Toast echoes this as we are treated to scenes involving jam tart making, a slightly disastrous spaghetti bolognaise, Christmas cake and old fashioned sweets – which the audience gets to share as Dad announces that “Parma Violets are for girls not boys Nigel!”
There is also the important stocking up of Christmas fare and production of mince pies which never quite make it into the oven, although the recipe stands Nigel in good stead when he later lands a job at London’s Savoy.
And, of course there is toast – always slightly burnt, but as Nigel says “How can you not love someone who makes you toast?”
The play contains all the ingredients for the perfect story, and is a recipe of humour, sadness, loss, change, growing up and family life with a sprinkle of ambition and a large spoonful of dreams. As well as lots of food.
Seasoned with Nigel quoting recipes from his favourite cookbook and providing hilarious and touching narratives to moments from his family’s life, it is obvious how the book won six major literary awards and been translated into five languages, with adaptions for both TV and radio.
And as for the walnut whip…well you will just have to go along for yourself to this excellent play and find out.
Toast is at The Oxford Playhouse until Saturday (August 31). For tickets go to www.oxfordplayhouse.com or call 01865 305305