STAGE REVIEW: Toast at the Festival Theatre, Malvern, from Monday, September 30 to Saturday, October 5, 2019.

SO, what would you expect?

The audience at Monday’s opening night was greeted with the tempting smell of toast as they entered the auditorium! And that meant everyone who walked into the stalls and circles had nostrils twitching over-time and reaching for the butter…

Bread was in the toaster and as it began to brown slowly the taste buds went into overdrive.

The smell of toast has that sort of effect on just about everyone - and so does this delightfully delicious offering which charmingly whisked us through the memories, some of them quite painful, of one of the country’s leading cooks and food writers, Nigel Slater, who was in the best sellers list with his 2004 memoire.

It just happened to be that he was in the Malvern audience for first night having not passed up the opportunity of a visit to his ‘local’ theatre having spent of his growing-up years in nearby Knightwick and attended - as a somewhat reluctant pupil, Martley’s Chantry School.

Once again he was able to witness Henry Filloux-Bennett’s hugely evocative and creative stage play - which is based on Slater’s own book of his early life in the 1960s and his seduction into what the kitchen had to offer.

Young Nigel is splendidly portrayed by an adult. Here it is Giles Cooper who makes Nigel so appealing in terms of emotion and eagerness as he tentatively treads a wary way from young and immature relationships with a local girl through to his feelings for a slightly older member of the Royal Ballet on his eventual move to life and work in London.

Cooper leads the five strong cast with style as he conveys all that is necessary to understand Nigel’s developing relish of what can be produced from the kitchen and what life has in store - especially from the moment he is a part-time cook at the local pub and encounters Josh (Stefan Edwards).

Nigel’s mum is sweetly and quite scattily played by Katy Federman, while Blair Plant is his domineering and demanding dad whose conversation subjects from half a century ago would now be considered not PC - even though Nigel might prefer ‘girl’ sweets such as Love Hearts.

Tragedy hits the homely idyll and removes the special love and rapport between Nigel and his mother with her death when he was just nine. It invokes tender and traumatic moments and also violent interludes in the strained relationship with his dad.

So enter Joan, played with verve and an air of blousey flirtatiousness, all of which flatters Nigel’s dad and eventually he remarries. Nigel is less impressed and cooking becomes a competitive challenge as he and Joan attempt to outdo each other’s offering.

It’s all performed with a wonderful air of delicacy and certainly an aroma of not just toast but also sweet treats like Parma Violets, which are among offerings handed out to the audience during the first act and then Walnut Whips after the interval.

Unfortunately I forgot their significance and ate mine prior to the OTT scene

Tne script and story-line may not uproot any trees but it is so evocative of how it once was and this is what makes it so appealing.

It’s a bitter sweet show of when life was so different, and to its eternal credit it leaves an outstanding and most memorable favour on the lips.

As enjoyable and indulgent as a slice of toast with dollops of butter spread evenly across...