Review: Nigel Slater's Toast (Traverse, Edinburgh Fringe)
Henry Filloux-Bennett's stage adaptation of Slater's memoirs transfers to the Fringe after an initial outing at the Lowry
It's hard to resist a show that features a "baked goods" supplier, hands out mini lemon meringue tarts and walnut whips (now, disappointingly called Whips and missing the walnuts) and fills the auditorium with the scent of toast. Stir in a warm heart and a well-observed story, and you have the recipe for a hit.
The basis of the success of Nigel Slater's best-selling memoir, expertly adapted for the stage by Henry Filloux-Bennett, was that it recognised that it "is impossible not to love someone who makes you toast". It blends together food, feeling and memory in ways that you don't have to be a famous cookery writer to understand. The kitchen is the heart of the family in more ways than one.
In Slater's case it was the place he made jam tarts and mince pies with his asthmatic mum; after she dies it is the arena for his fights with his stepmother – "a chain-smoking bitch" – as they wage a battle of cakes for his father's heart. "Her lemon meringue was a brutal act of war," says Nigel, sensitively and winningly played by Sam Newton.
This production, originally seen at The Lowry, is as light as a good Victoria sponge, with the tart bite of apricot jam. It is staged by director and choreographer Jonnie Riordan and designer Libby Watson with great charm, with the cast wheeling lemon-doored cupboards across the wide lino of a 1950s kitchen, so the action flows from scene to scene.
Nigel dances with his mother (Lizzie Muncey, all hesitant love) atop those cupboards, holding her tight because he knows she may go; his best friend steps through the fridge to engage in a Top of the Form style quiz about his father's strict rules on sweets, and what can be eaten by boys and girls.
The fantastical routines break up the action but are never over-extended and their delicious delicacy is matched by a script that weighs words carefully to both comic ("it turns out a hand washbasin can take a lot of sick. But not enough") and emotional ("Digestives taste of home – sweet and wheaty with a touch of the hamster's cage about them") effect.
As Nigel's baffled father, a man caught by his time, flailing around in the wake of love that he recognises but doesn't understand, Mark Fleischmann stays just the right side of caricature; Marie Lawrence is a joy as the terrible Joan, forever flicking her feather duster, and Jake Ferretti fills many parts with élan. The whole thing is a treat.