Review: Toast, Rose Theatre Kingston

From the writer of the international hit One Man, two Guvnors, comes a slow burning drama that is filled with excellent performances. 

Toast production photos. Matthew Kelly (Nellie). Photo credit Oliver King..JPG
Matthew Kelly in Richard Bean’s Toast. Photograph by Oliver King. 

Having worked in a bakery himself, there is no doubting that Richard Bean has plenty to say about working in a bakery that comes through in this production. But it takes a while for the show to settle down and really build momentum and engage the audience’s full attention.

Set on one Sunday evening’s shift, a group of seven men work swiftly through the night to make a huge batch of bread for the next day delivery. Until that is someone puts a spanner in the works, when a tin gets stuck in the oven, temporarily throwing the oven out of action and causing panic.

It is not necessarily a play in which much happens, but rather about the characters and the bond between them that by the end is actually quite poignant to watch – even if the production does take a while to get going.

At the centre of all this is Matthew Kelly as Nellie, someone who has worked at the bakery for a long time and a character who everyone rallies around. Kelly’s performance is understated and lovely to watch – not speaking much but still manages to make an impact when he does.

But the whole ensemble works well together as whole as well. Other particular standouts come from Matt Sutton as Peter – who can come across as laid back but is right on the ball when it comes to a crisis and John Wark as Lance – a character who feels he had no purpose until he started at the bakery.

Although the relationships at the beginning of the show, set in a grim looking factory, seem fractured and tense, by the end the audience can see how there is in fact a real bond between them all.

The production directed by Eleanor Rhode, really makes the most of the characters in every scene – despite the occasional long pause which doesn’t do anything to add to the audience’s understanding of the play or the characters.

It is the second act which is stronger than the first, with added tension thanks to an incident that has all the characters on edge. It really reveals how each individual deals with a crisis, deepening our understanding of them.

Overall, thinking over it the play is extremely clever and subtle – once you have seen it all thanks to Rhode’s production. But it still feels underwhelming in places as if Richard Bean wasn’t entirely sure what he wanted to do with this play.

Toast is on at the Rose Theatre in Kingston until Saturday 13th February. 

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