Review by Mitch Poole
Nigel Slater is a national treasure. Author, cook, diarist and presenter, his gentle eloquence and passion for food trip from the page and screen with sensory pleasure as he shares his delight and passion for cooking and combining ingredients.
His 2003 memoir ‘Toast – the story of a boy’s hunger’ is a feast of a read. A vivid and honest tale of his childhood world growing up in 1960’s postwar Britain. It is happy and it is sad written with all of Nigel’s lively wit and flair. Toast is a memoir about growing up and particularly the role that food, cooking, and flavour took in his formative years. It explains how food interplayed his relationships particularly with his parents, and ultimately how it became his liberation and salvation.
Toast opened at the Liverpool Playhouse last night. Henry Filloux-Bennett has lifted Nigel’s words from the book and condensed the tale into a three-hour stage play.
Giles Cooper plays Nigel taking him from boyish innocence to enlightened adolescence. The dialogue is true to Nigel’s original narrative in the book and Cooper has captured Nigel’s voice and speech patterns brilliantly. The play captures the essence of the book. It is funny, moving and entertaining.
The first half takes us up to the tragedy and impact of his mother’s death which shatters his ‘perfect’ life. The second half takes us into the second era of Nigel’s youth, his teens and the move from Wolverhampton to Worcester when his father takes up with ‘Auntie Joan’. Nigel finds he can cook and bake and so ensues the ‘Battle of Clayford’, where the two attempt to out bake each other to win his father’s affections. She wins and they marry.
Nigel’s growth and salvation come through a job he takes cooking at the local pub under the guidance and encouragement of Doreen the cook. It is here that he cooks the recipes he has only dreamed and read of, exotics such as Duck a L’Orange and fish with fennel. It is here that he gets to explore his sexuality. And it is here that he hears of his father’s sudden death. He consoles himself cooking by instinct and realises that food is his love, passion, stability and ticket to liberation.
With typical unassuming modesty, Nigel Slater was there last night. He didn’t steal the thunder of the actors, just sat at the back and watched. Most would have been unaware that he was there. No fuss, no signings or book sales, he just talked to people who sought him out.
Nigel Slater’s Toast runs until 14 September at the Liverpool Playhousehttps://www.everymanplayhouse.com