In the hometown of Hull, during the mid-70s, the British economy heavily relied on its bread and fishes factories. Toast’s playwright, Richard Bean had first-hand experience of these factories, getting his hands dirty – stuck into dough and mixing – while working in them. The inspiration behind many of his plays came from his time at Homepride Spillers factory at the dear age of 18 – just after finishing school!
Bean’s 1999 breakthrough play is now showing at the Rose Theatre, Kingston, under the direction of Eleanor Rhodes. With the familiar face of Matthew Kelly, it zooms into the past in a messy, waiting room type production, and it is Bean’s eyes that we see them through.
The humour is full-on filth, but it’s light touch of historical truth and human psychology cannot be denied, making it even more poignant and relevant to the audience. The play delves deep into one overnight shift – of a salary worth 10p an hour – ran by seven hardworking men relieving themselves from the hot ovens, and almost burning themselves, in a kitchen waiting area; it was a blessing to even get a job in those days! In a time of dire circumstance these men find their identity and purpose at the bread making workplace.
Toast is an insightful peek into how far we moved away from the mass labour of the 70s – today most factories are operated by people and high-tech machinery. There’s no doubt that the relationships formed at a bread factory today (or any workplace) are similar, though they won’t necessarily include a chargehand, deckie, a spare wank, or other peculiar job titles.
The play’s dialogue can be tongue in cheek, graphic and completely alpha, yet, understandably, there’s a sense that this kind of chat was necessary – to keep the chaps sane, and get them going through the night.
There are impeccable performances from the cast, including Will Barton as the unionist Colin, who likes to stick to the rules; John Wark as the ambiguous and slightly awkward student, Lance; Simon Greenall as the cheeky chappy Cecil; Matt Sutton as in-your-face Peter who gets the audience a little warmed up with a close call for a fight with Steve Nicolson’s broody and potty-mouthed Blakey. And there’s also Kieran Knowles’ Dezzie who adds to the symmetry of comedy. Yet the real star- in-their-eye performer is none other than Matthew Kelly as Nellie – he doesn’t say much but his mere display of a slow, old mixer is a sentimental one which stands out from the rest.
The play isn’t a fast burner, but it is certainly packed with a few giggles and a fantastic history lesson.
Review by Mary Nguyen
Another Sunday night shift. The smell of bread baking. The industrial thump, thump, thump of the machines that never stop. The ovens are cranked up to full blast, the factory is humming, and everyone wants to be somewhere else.
But this shift is going to be different. Because when a crisis hits the factory, the men have more to lose than just their wages…
From the writer of the international hit One Man, Two Guvnors, Richard Bean’s brilliantly observed drama stars the Olivier Award winning actor Matthew Kelly and Simon Greenall (Alan Partridge). After receiving huge critical acclaim in London in 2014 and prior to a New York engagement, where it will be opening the prestigious ‘Brits off Broadway’ festival, this funny and moving play now comes to the Rose Theatre for one week only.
This production was originally performed at Park Theatre, London
Please note: There is strong language and smoking throughout this production
An Interview with Matthew Kelly and Simon Greenall
Thursday 4th to Saturday 13th February 2016