11 February 2016

Toast at the Rose Theatre entertained and surprised delightfully

The two main reasons that I went to see Toast are given in the poster, it starred Matthew Kelly, who I last saw in The Seagull, and was written by Richard Bean, who also wrote One Man Two Guvnors which was very funny. The other reason was that it was on at the Rose Theatre and I like to support my local theatres, the Rose is one of the three that I can walk to and is the closest of those.

With a local theatre to go to in the evening I made it a Work At Home day. I could have got there from work but that would have meant the slow train to Kingston whereas being at home I had a leisurely walk along the river instead.

I went for my usual area, the first proper row, named appropriately Row A, where seat 14 was a very reasonable £26.

The stage was set as the rest area of a large industrial bakery in Yorkshire on a busy Sunday.

We met them one at a time as they either came in ready to start their shift or to take a break. There was the usual sort of friendly banter between people who have worked together for years. Through this banter we learned something about them, one was in debt and was trying to see his car, one was in a marriage that had lost its lustre and another had ambitions for a promotion to another factory.

What was quickly apparent was that this was nothing like One Man Two Guvnors with the humour coming more that from the interplay between the characters than from any farce-like comic situation set-up. About the only moments if slapstick were the many failed attempts by all of the men (they were all men) to throw rubbish into the waste bin. The floor around it was littered with used teabags etc.

There was a serious side to the story too. The plant was on its last legs mechanically and a serious incident meant that there was a real risk that it would be closed down in favour of another newer factory. The men talked about what this would mean and it was bad news for all of them.

Toast was something like an Alan Bleasdale's TV plays in the Thatcher years, plays like Boys from the Blackstuff, that mixed politics with humour. The balance in Toast was more towards the humour than the social commentary but both played a part.

Another element came into the story with the arrival of a mature student on his first day of work there. The others were sceptical about his chances of survival given the experience of previous students. Then things took a strange turn when the student suggested that he was actually something else and was there for another reason.

There were other things going on in the play too and it was never clear where it was going until right at the unexpected end. The journey there took several twists and turns and piled on the laughs while it did so.

Being a character play put the emphasis on the actors and luckily they were all good. It was very much an ensemble performance. Matthew Kelly may have been given the main billing, and was the best known name in the cast, but he was absent from several scenes, he had some dough to mix, and so did not dominate the show.

Toast gave us humour, social commentary and a few surprises in a play that entertained easily.

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