In this household at least, Nigel Slater’s ‘Lazy Loaf’ recipe has been a lifesaver during lockdown. The renowned chef’s cookbooks grace bookshelves up and down the country, but it his autobiography, Nigel Slater’s Toast, that inspired a stage play which last year enjoyed a West End run and a national tour.
For Slater it was the ‘Cookery in Colour’ book, baking jam tarts, and a close bond with his own mother (even if she did have a habit of burning the toast) that inspired him to become a chef. Writer, Henry Filloux-Bennett, has taken Slater’s collection of memories and moulded them in to a more linear storyline, that continually whets your appetite for what’s to come next.
Toast follows the life of Nigel Slater from age nine through seventeen. A difficult period at the best of times, but the young Slater also has to adapt to a changing family life, as his adoring mother passes away, and his father remarries. Taking an interest in cooking is initially frowned upon, at a time when he’s already trying to understand his sexuality, and the narrative demonstrates that everyone has their own struggles to contend with.
The original cast, along with director Jonnie Riordan, have reunited (in the virtual sense) to create this audio version of the stage play. It can be listened to on its own, or viewed with the accompanying animations, the latter making for an almost immersive experience as the streets of Wolverhampton, or the Savoy hotel, unfurl in front of you.
Giles Cooper gives a rich and distinctive performance as Slater, he’s the only member of the talented and versatile cast to take on just one character, and delivers most of the story, the result is that the audience are drawn in, totally enraptured in the unfolding memories. Cooper ages the character well, and you can see the gradual changes taking place as the play bubbles away on a low heat.
Listening to Nigel Slater’s Toast is a wonderful escape from our own reality, in to someone else’s. The language is tantalisingly descriptive and I would recommend having a supply of snacks on hand (particularly a Walnut Whip) to satisfy any cravings that the read out recipes may trigger. This is an autobiographical account that proves to be more jam than pastry, and while Nigel’s Lazy Loaf has come to the rescue during lockdown, so may Toast, as a recipe for alternative forms of theatre.