Nigel Slater's memories of growing up in Wolverhampton to tour UK stages
Chef Nigel Slater says rustling sweet bags and eating treats in the audience is encouraged during the UK tour of a play based on his memoirs of growing up in the Black Country.
Toast will tour the country later this year, but will noticeably miss out any venues in the Black Country – where his award-winning biography takes place during his childhood, growing up in the Penn area of Wolverhampton in the 1960s.
The play – which premiered at the Lowry in Salford and had a sold-out run as part of Traverse Festival 2018 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – is based on the British Book Awards Biography of the Year. It has also transferred to London, to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Other Palace until August 3.
It recreates suburban England in the 1960’s, as Nigel’s childhood in Wolverhampton is told through the tastes and smells he grew up with – as the audience get lost in the sights and sounds of cookery that defined moments of his youth.
Nigel’s memoir ‘Toast - the Story of a Boy’s Hunger’ won six awards and became a BBC film starring Helena Bonham Carter and Freddie Highmore.
Speaking to Sky News, he said: “It is a mixture of wonderful home cooking, the things I would make with my mother, and the not so delicious packet foods and an awful lot of tinned food.
“My mother was a good home cook. We would cook together secretly, because my father wanted me to grow up to be an engineer like him. So all our cooking, all the little tarts and cakes were made in secret. It was a little thing between mom and myself.
“The play is absolutely full of nostalgia – and not just for the food, but for the story. The idea of a little boy who is not allowed to do what he wants to do, which is cook.
“The idea of a man having a career in the kitchen has changed enormously. When I was a child, it was very unusual, I was the first boy in my school to do cookery – it took a lot of explaining to my dad that I was not going to do woodwork and I was going to bake cakes.
“And now, of course, it is quite normal for a guy to go into the kitchen professionally, to cook at home, but in those days it was very much the province of mom.
“It is a little strange to see my early life on stage, but in a good way. Giles Cooper who plays the young Nigel has picked up lots of little details about me, little bits of body language or the way I would say something, that I did not tell him about.
“It is a lovely thing to see the book go from page to stage. But to actually see little Nigel is slightly spooky as well.
“Toast was my comfort food, it was the thing that mom made for me, that I loved above everything else. It is one of the pivotal things in the play.”
But Nigel said he think it’s odd that children can grow up, leave school and start their lives – but lack the skills to make themselves a meal.
He said: “I think it is extraordinary that you can leave school with so much information – much of which you will never use again – but very often with the inability to make yourself something to eat.
“I think it is crucial that children are taught how to make themselves a meal.”
And audiences heading to see Toast on stage can expect a treat or two to be passed around the audience – and Nigel says snacking on sweets is a necessity.
WATCH the trailer for Nigel Slater's Toast
He added: “There are little treats that played a huge part in my childhood that we have recreated on stage and, unusually, we have actually got the audience eating some of them.
“Don’t come hungry, we are not giving you a meal! But there are some important little treats and this play is very unusual because the director decided wouldn’t it be great to have the audience actually tasting the food. So we have a food director who has worked with the cast and they have lots of little treats that the cast rush out into the audience with and then the audience pass them around.
“The whole room comes alive with everybody taking a sweet or a little treat – and then passing them around.
“Rustling sweet packets in the audience is positively encouraged! In fact there’s one moment where it is just golden and everybody opens their sweetie at the same time – and it is like a flock of birds taking off into the air, with the rustling and crackling of papers.
“Food is sort of the character on stage that isn’t in the cast list.”
The UK tour of Toast kicks off Huddersfield in August, before visiting Oxford, Southend, Newcastle, Northampton, Salisbury, Manchester, York and finishing in Crewe in December.
Anyone in the Black Country hoping to catch the play, can head to the nearest show at Malvern Theatres between September 30 and October 5.
To book tickets, call the box office on 01684 892277 or visit www.malvern-theatres.co.uk.
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