Nigel Slater’s Toast pops up online as animated radio play, Walnut Whips and all

Nigel, meet Nigel: Cookery writer Nigel Slater with Giles Cooper, who played his younger self on stage and will do so again in next month’s radio play and animated film. Picture: Simon Annand

NIGEL Slater’s childhood memoir, Toast, is popping up again, this time online as a radio play and animated film with a recipe card from the cookery writer, from July 1 to 31.

For the full flavour to flood out, to match the interactive, sensory nature of the 2019 stage play, where the smell of food added to the pleasure, “new ways for audiences to feel, hear, smell and taste” Toast will be part of the broadcast experience.

This innovative response to lockdown times is being brought to the air by the Lawrence Batley Theatre, in Huddersfield, “rising to the forefront to make a difference during this cultural shift for a second time in a bid to raise money for the theatre industry when it faces ongoing struggles”.

Already, the West Yorkshire theatre has mounted an online adaptation of The Understudy, Henry Filloux-Bennett’s adaptation of David Nicholls’ 2005 novel. Starring Stephen Fry, it reached international audiences in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Kuwait, Russia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Switzerland and the United States, as well as in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

Working in partnership with The Lowry, Salford, LBT’s Toast will feature the original West End cast, led by Giles Cooper, a close friend of Slater, who will be recording his lines in his London home, where Slater lived when he began writing his award-winning autobiography.

Cooper also played Slater in Toast’s national tour that visited York Theatre Royal last November. Now he reprises the role once more, re-joining, albeit remotely, his London co-stars Lizzie Muncey as Mum, Stephen Ventura as Dad,Marie Lawrence as Joan and Jake Ferretti as Josh, under the direction of Jonnie Riordan again. 

The poster for Nigel Slater’s Toast

Filloux-Bennett’s two-hour adaptation of Slater’s autobiography vividly re-creates his childhood through the tastes and smells he shares with his mother, culminating in the young Nigel’s escape to London. From making the perfect sherry trifle, through the playground politics of sweets, the rigid rules of restaurant dining, and a domestic war over cakes, this tale of love, loss and toast is “A Play About Growing Up. With Food”. 

The cast and creative team involved in Toast are taking part completely in isolation, with the actors’ lines, recorded at home, being brought to life by the sound design team of Alexandra Faye Braithwaite, Annie May Fletcher and Sophie Galpin. 

Commenting on the LBT’s upcoming broadcast, Slater says: “Toast has already had a life as a book, a film and a stage production and I am thrilled to see it in its latest format as an animated radio play.

“To bring the play to such a wide audience is a brilliant idea from the Lawrence Batley Theatre and The Lowry and working with so many of the original production team and cast again has been an absolute joy.”

Writer Filloux-Bennett says: “I’m thrilled that we’ve been able to bring Toast back to this new virtual stage. We were completely blown away by the response the play had from audiences across the country, and we’re so excited that people who weren’t able to catch the play before now can, and that for those who enjoyed it on stage we can bring the story – and the Walnut Whips – back again.”

For more information on how to listen to Toast or watch the animated film next month, go to Tickets cost £10 to £16 at, with those booking for the higher price receiving a package of goodies, including a programme, Nigel Slater recipe card and two Walnut Whips, “so you can have a heart-warming and stomach-filling evening from your front room”. 

The LBY website says: “You will receive an email with a link to the play and recipe card three days prior to the date that you have booked to watch the performance.  If you have selected to receive a programme, recipe card and Walnut Whips, then you will receive these through the post prior to your performance date.”

Here is Charles Hutchinson’s review of Toast from last November

Nigel Slater’s Toast, York Theatre Royal, November 19 to 23 2019 *****

Giles Cooper in his stage role as Nigel Slater in Toast last year

HERE is the challenge facing director Jonnie Riordan. “Think about how long it takes to actually make a piece of toast, and then how do you do that on stage when you’re trying to keep the audience engaged?” he says.

It brings a new meaning to pop-up theatre in York after the summer Elizabeth version at Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, and Riordan and writer Henry Filloux-Bennett have made a wonderful job of adapting cookery writer Nigel Slater’s coming-of-age memoir for the stage.

Like Jonathan Watkins for Matt Haig’s Reasons To Stay Alive, on tour at the Theatre Royal only two weeks ago, Riordan is both director and choreographer. However, whereas Watkins’s show took time to find its footing on a somewhat strange-looking set – was it a crater or a cracked cloud egg? – Toast is sure footed, even light on its feet from the start.

Nigel, our narrator, guides us through his story like Slater’s lovely writing leads you through his recipes and epicurean thoughts in his mellifluous books. Played by the delightful Giles Cooper in schoolboy tank top and short trousers, Nigel is nine and already drawn to the one cookery book in the Slaters’ Wolverhampton home: Marguerite Patten’s ground-breaking Cookery In Colour, a full-colour Sixties’ bolt out of the cordon bleu after the grey gravy of before.

From within the cream and brown Sixties’ kitchen of Libby Watson’s design, Cooper’s Nigel likes to orchestrate all the storytelling, stepping in and out of a scene to converse with the audience, but such is the skill of Filloux-Bennett’s writing that the events of his young life have a habit of pulling the rug from under him. At one point, his mother stops him in his tracks and tells him to re-trace his steps to relate the true, darker version of events.

Attention to detail: Giles Cooper’s Nigel Slater seeks culinary perfection in Toast

There is abundant humour, absolutely true to Slater’s own tone in his books, but the darkness has to break through too, given what happened to Slater in his childhood and teenage years.

His love of food is omnipresent, and yes, we see toast popping up in real time and later Nigel making mushrooms on toast with a chef’s flair and precision in one so young. We enjoy the culinary sensations, and when Nigel is regaling us with the delights of sweets – amid his father’s insistence that certain sweets are for boys, others for girls – bags of sweets are passed around the audience. The real Nigel Slater had a bag by his feet as he sat in the dress circle, by the way!

Food is at the heart of Toast, glorious food and not so glorious food in the case of Nigel’s father’s first attempt at making spaghetti bolognaise, mountains of “sick-smelling” Parmesan dust et al. Part of the joy here  is having our own recollections of mishaps around our own kitchen tables.

Through food too, we see the difference between Nigel’s relationship with his Mum (Katy Federman), pretty much tied to the apron strings, such is their bond, and his abusive Dad (Blair Plant, back at his old Theatre Royal stamping ground).

Into the story comes the dreadful Joan (Samantha Hopkins) and assorted characters played by Stefan Edwards, as the first stirrings of Nigel’s sexuality play out.

Brilliant performances, a superb choice of soundtrack from La Mer to Dusty, and a finale as warm and toasty as toast make Toast a five-star treat, both measured and deeply flavoured like a Nigel Slater recipe.

Review copyright of The Press, York