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Review of Blueberry Toast by Mary Laws at Soho Theatre

Blueberry Toast prod images. Adrianna Bertola and Matt Barkley. Credit Helen Maybanks & Soho Theatre
Blueberry Toast prod images. Adrianna Bertola and Matt Barkley. Credit Helen Maybanks & Soho Theatre.

Back in the day, many toys were operated by a clockwork mechanism, You would wind the key, feeling the spring inside tighten up until it would go no more, then push a button, the spring was released and the toy would charge off doing whatever it was supposed to do. I mention this because the idea of winding a mechanism until it goes off is at the heart of Mary Laws’ play Blueberry Toast which is receiving its European premiere at the Soho Theatre.

On a normal Sunday morning, poetry teacher Walt (Gareth David-Lloyd) is marking texts in the kitchen of his lovely suburban home. His doting wife Barb (Gala Gordon) has asked him what he would like for breakfast and, having got his order, has started to make him blueberry toast. Whilst breakfast is beig prepared, the couple’s children, the whimsically named Jack (Matt Barkley) and Jill (Adrianna Bertola), are working on a four-act play to show their parents. Walt is contentedly feeling that all is right in the world, and once he has had his breakfast of blueberry pancakes – yes you read that right – then he will be popping over the road to help neighbour Kath Parkinson with her sliding door. Just a normal Sunday morning in suburbia, but underneath the cheerful middle-class demeanor, runs a tide of emotions and hidden feelings that will ensure this is a Sunday like no other for Walt and his family.

Mary Laws has crafted a wickedly funny and dark tale of suburbia with Blueberry Toast. Within a few seconds, it is obvious that there is an issue with Walt and Barb’s relationship. The constant use of the word ‘dear’ at the end of sentences feels less a term of endearment and more of a verbal reminder to the character that they are supposed to love their spouse. Linguistically, this is a superbly written text. There are wonderful moments, such as Barb’s description of Walt’s heart when she is asking him what he would like for breakfast, is subtle but gives so much away about her feelings for her husband. In reality, this is a marriage that is on the edge of something big. Whilst it’s never actually mentioned, it is fairly obvious that Walt is playing away from home and not being too subtle about it. He is also a bit of a narcissist, misogynist and, given some of his comments and attitudes, Barb might have a case for divorce on the grounds of mental cruelty. There is also Walt’s relationship with his children – he obviously favours Jill over Jack – which feels wrong when being observed from outside. In fact, the children themselves are slightly worrying – the expression about apples not falling far from the tree which comes to mind when observing them – although they do have a wonderful knack for walking in on their parents at totally the wrong time. All told, these are four highly complex characters forced to be together and forever keeping up appearances.

So, on to the actors and Gareth and Gala really shine in their roles as Walt and Barb respectively. There is a great moment near the end of the play when walt goes off on a wonderful rant about his life and who will join him in heaven while Barb quietly gets on with making breakfast. Gareth dominates the stage at this point but, whilst still fixated on him, I kept sneaking a peak to the side of the stage where Gala was gently stealing his thunder with her, underplayed, but very funny breakfast preparations. And it has to be said, there is a lot of very dark humour in this play which Gala and Gareth deliver perfectly. Matt and Adrianna are adults playing children and pull it off really well – helped in part by their very appropriate costumes.

Moving to the production and full marks to Anthony Lamble for creating a perfect – almost catalogue worthy – kitchen for the family to inhabit. One of the things I really liked was that the kitchen set slightly overhung the main stage, again like the family, where on initial inspection everything is perfect but a closer look reveals things are not quite right. The kitchen looks amazing and gives Director Steve Marmion plenty of room to play with, particularly in the final moments where there is a lot of movement going on as Walt and Barb complete their morning together.

Blueberry Toast is a well-written and excellently acted play that really delves into the dark inner heart of an American suburban family. Initially, it feels a bit like an old sitcom with the perfect family – all smiles and honeyed words – starting a normal middle-class Sunday, but it very soon dives into something darker and more sinister. My one concern with the play was that it was difficult to work out when it was set – and maybe this was deliberate. But for me, it added a level of uncertainty that I felt wasn’t needed. You could say that Blueberry Toast is a story of female redemption or just a horrific satire on suburban life. I really don’t want to give anything away, but over the 70 minutes running time, the play goes from light-hearted to its amazing ending extremely fast, but the pace never feels rushed and at the end, my breath had been taken away. I left the theatre glad of two things, first that I was still single and second that I wasn’t responsible for getting the stage ready for the next performance.

Overall then Blueberry Toast is a compelling and hard-hitting story that hooks its audience within seconds and then, 70 minutes later, releases them back into the world with maybe a slightly different view of the ‘happy’ couples around them.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

On a regular Sunday morning, Walt sits in his sunny suburban kitchen while wife Barb makes him breakfast. It’s not long before the mundane descends into madness.

Award-winning US playwright, Mary Laws, exposes the darker side of happily ever after in the UK premiere of this cutting, absurdly funny, twisted tragedy.

Starring Gala Gordon (Three Sisters; Young Vic, The Blinding Light; Jermyn Street Theatre and The Crown), Gareth David-Lloyd (Three Women and a Piano Tuner; Hampstead Theatre; Torchwood, Holby City and Waterloo Road), Adrianna Bertola (Matilda; RSC and Charlie & The Chocolate Factory; West End) and Matt Barkley (Gangsta Granny; West End).

Mary Laws’ plays include Bird Fire Fly, Wonderful, The Drive, What A Very Pretty Pageant!, Stand (an autumn play), The Trapeze Artist and This. As a screenwriter, her credits include AMC’s TV series Preacher and The Neon Demon.

Soho Theatre
Thu 24 May – Sat 30 Jun, 7.15pm

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