Get your Walnut Whips ready, as the story of Nigel Slater’s early years comes to the virtual Lawrence Batley Theatre stage in a newly animated version of Toast. In that sense it’s like a slightly heightened radio play; sound effects add to the actors’ voice performances, with the animated stills showing the location of events, meals described, or specific details from a scene (courtesy of Dusthouse). Just to round things off, there’s a brief interval included where old radio adverts (for products such as Dubonnet, and companies like Schweppes) are played out to pass the time.
Young Nigel enjoys joining his mum in the kitchen, whether it’s jam tarts (“we make them the way we like them”) or something “fancy” out of Cookery in Colour by Marguerite Patten like duck à l’orange. He also loves anything she feeds him, be it spaghetti bolognese, flapjacks, butterscotch Angel Delight, or the titular toast – “it’s impossible not to love someone who makes you toast”. His relationship with his father, however, is not so straightforward. It’s really put to the test when the family’s circumstances change suddenly and dramatically, eventually leading to them moving house and starting again somewhere new.
I never got round to seeing the recent stage production of the show, so I can’t do a compare and contrast; the only thing I knew about it (from friends who had seen it) was that Walnut Whips were handed out – in isolation that meant nothing, but I do wish I’d retained that information before I listened! It’s a nice way to feel like you’re getting involved with the show, and giving yourself a treat at the same time. I’d also recommend making some toast, as an instant craving sets in as soon as they first mention it!
Giles Cooper returns to play Nigel; he is definitely the perfect fit – the enthusiasm and joy is evident in his voice as he reminisces about recipes and other special moments with his mum, and he really sells the episodes of childhood innocence that occur throughout the story. The warmth of Lizzie Muncey’s voice as Nigel’s mum is in stark contrast with that of his dad (Stephen Ventura), the awkwardness and struggle to connect is real and palpable.
There are some genuinely very heartwarming moments in this play (written by Henry Filloux-Bennett), and its home-centric setting makes it an ideal choice for a radio play to be enjoyed in the comfort of your own home. It’s a top quality production that is well worth settling down for with a slice of toast and a Walnut Whip.
My verdict? A top quality production full of heartwarming moments and alimentary temptations – grab yourself a Walnut Whip and make yourself comfy.
Toast is streaming through the Lawrence Batley Theatre until 31 July 2020 – tickets are available online.