Connaught Theatre, Worthing | Until 19th March 2016
Toast | Review
As I was driving down to Worthing last night, I was listening to Radio 4’s ‘Just a Minute’ and one of the featured subjects was ‘Toast’, very apt as I was driving to see a comedy called just that and well; hot buttered toast is one of my favourite things.
‘Toast’ was written in 1999 by award winning playwright Richard Bean (One Man Two Govs / Great Britain), it originally opened at the Royal Court and was revived at the Park Theatre in 2014. Maintaining much of the 2014 cast Toast is now on a short UK tour before popping over the pond to open the prestigious ‘Brits off Broadway‘ festival.
‘Toast’ was Bean’s first full length play, it is based on his own experiences as a young man working in a bread factory in Hull during the 1970s.
Set in a dirty, rank room where the workers take their breaks, Toast brings together a batch of 7 working class men of dubious personal hygiene, whose jobs at the factory are in jeopardy due a new bakery opening in Bradford. When an order goes wrong and as a result they are expected to work until 4am baking 3,000 extra loaves of bread there is a mixture of reactions but a realisation that the order must be completed.
The play opens and we see the workers congregating at the start of their shift but that is one of the rare times that you see them together. As a large clock on the wall keeps time they all come and go, either for their ‘half hour’ break or for a quick smoke and their characters build as we see them interact with each other.
Blakey (Steve Nicolson) is in charge, he is paid a whole 10p per hour more than the others but needs to watch his back as shop steward Colin (Will Barton) butters up the boss. Blakey also mentors new worker Lance (John Wark) who claims to be a mature student but despite appearing articulate and well read isn’t quite what he seems.
Peter (Matt Sutton) loathes the work at the bread plant but sorely needs it and worries about the future and how he will be able to support his family if the bread plant closes.
Kieran Knowles the only newcomer to the 2014 Park Theatre cast plays Dezzie. Dezzie’s recent house move has given his wife a welcomed sex drive which delights him, and also delights Cecil (Simon Greenhall) who loves to hear about it because ‘he isn’t getting any’.
Matthew Kelly headlines the play but you will be disappointed if you are expecting the squeaky clean host of ‘Game for a Laugh’ or ‘Stars in Their Eyes’, here he plays Nellie who, quite frankly, is not the full loaf. Hen-pecked Nellie (or Walter) has worked all his life at the bread factory and spends his holidays picking potatoes, he’s covered in dermatitis caused by the flour and enjoys a well-earned smoke.
Nellie doesn’t have much to say and what he does say is monosyllabic, however it is not what he says, but what Kelly does which is so compelling, he shuffles around the set and sits for long periods of time, but whether he is smoking or just eating a cheese sandwich it is done with immaculate timing and you cannot take your eyes from him.
Richard Bean created all the characters from actual people he met during his time on the bread plant which explains why they seem genuinely palpable. Bean’s inspired writing together with Eleanor Rhode’s direction you forget their strong language and sexual banter and begin to really care for the characters who despite all their differences share a common bond and when a crisis happens they all put together.
Toast is like a loaf of bread, it proves slowly before building up to a delicious conclusion. Although it doesn’t split your sides, it is warm and funny and worth seeing. It is playing at the Connaught Theatre in Worthing until Saturday.
Reviewer : Sammi O’Neill
Age rating 14+ due to strong language and sexual references.
Connaught Theatre, Worthing.
Valid 14th-19th March 2016