Friday, 19 February 2016

Toast

Matthew Kelly gives a mesmerising performance in this tale about 1970s bakery workers facing the breadline

Written by Georgina Brown
Georgina-Brown-colour-176I’ve been longing to review this play because I’ve always wanted to write the sentence ‘Bean’s on Toast’, for the writer is Richard (One Man, Two Guvnors) Bean. The play – his first, written in 1999 – is a vivid slice of workingclass life, set in the canteen of a run-down bakehouse in Hull.

Bean worked in a bakery, which explains this play’s authentic flavour. There’s no mistaking its 1970s setting, the decade taste forgot, from the appalling haircuts and skin-tight shirts and the total absence of health and safety in the grungy canteen and ancient, earsplittingly noisy, unpredictable oven beyond. Working conditions are awful. The men earn little dough, and there’s no hope of jam tomorrow for there are rumblings of the factory being shut down. Then it’s the breadline for the vast majority of workers.

Surprisingly perhaps, Bean is not looking back in anger, but with affectionate amusement at the camaraderie in the workplace where the men – the cast is all male – bound together by the tedium and endless night shifts, talk grubbily, with lashings of swearwords (you’ve been warned), about their sandwiches (fish paste) and how much sex they aren’t getting.

There’s little else in their lives except what their randy old boss is up to (he’s ‘shagging lass on custards’, having got through those on apple turnovers, pasties, pork pies and Eccles cakes).

More surprising, however, is their genuine and mutual fondness, never articulated but evident in their willingness to risk getting burnt to death when the oven breaks down just as they get a late order for an extra 3,000 wholemeal loaves. What caused the oven to jam creates a bit of a whodunnit, but Bean builds in some extra tension by bringing in a stranger, who doesn’t sound like the mature student he claims to be when he comes on all doomy to old Walter that ‘your time is up’.

Poor old Walter is played by a mesmerising Matthew Kelly, caked in flour, who can smoke one of his very limited supply of cigs with it stuck to his lips, no hands required. He appears simple, as if his brain has been numbed by a lifetime of mixing. At one point we watch him for several minutes as he chews the cheese filling from his sandwich (understandably, he has no appetite for the bread) and his huge face folds and wobbles, like dough being kneaded.

While it would be an overstatement to suggest that Toast is the best thing since sliced bread, nicely browned performances and Eleanor Rhode’s crisp production make it worth a bite when it pops up at a theatre near you.

Tour details and to book: 07540- 433546, http://snapdragonproductions.com/productions/toast-uk-tour/



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