Steve Nicolson, Simon Greenall, Will Barton, Matthew Kelly and Matt Sutton in
TOAST. Photo by Oliver King)
By Rachel Goddard
probably never thought about what it would be like to be the fly on the wall of
a bread factory break room, but that’s what Richard Bean (One Man Two Guvnors)
allows the audience to do in Toast. With ingenuously boorish and
precisely written characters, Bean’s play is full of humor with moments of
intense drama leaving the audience on the edge of their seats. Think, Steel
Magnolias with British men and instead of hairspray; bread flour.
Toast joins eight other plays brought from
the UK to 59E59 Theaters to be a part of “Brits Off-Broadway”. This production,
directed by Eleanor Rhode, features a strong ensemble cast of seven men,
showing off the incredible talent of England’s theatre actors. Originally
premiering in 1999, this production is the third revival of Bean’s play. It was
his first stage script and loosely based on his experience working in a bread
factory. This comes to no surprise to anyone who’s seen Toast. The
detailed vernacular of the bread factory world suggests the playwright’s
firsthand experience in this setting.
The set is a
simple break room covered in flour, where the six bakers can escape the
grueling industrial work days for a few minutes to smoke, drink tea, and
complain. Within the first several minutes, the men discover that, due to a
large order placed, they’re in for a longer night than they bargained for.
Blakey, played by Steve Nicolson (War Horse; The National Theatre)
begins the play by entering the canteen and looking up at the large white
clock, hung high and center of the upstage wall, showing just before three
o’clock. After a phone call with the boss, (who never makes an appearance but
is frequently referenced in less than flattering light) Blakey is joined by
Colin, played by Will Barton (Bedtime Stories, Stephen Joseph
Theatre). We’re introduced to the rest of the characters as they come in for
their break or to begin their shifts. In the first act, we enjoy several
playful banters interspersed with questions about the future of the bread
plant. The intensity finally hits in the second act as some baking tins were
stuck in the ovens and two of them men risk serious injury to remove them.
Kelly in TOAST. Photo by Oliver King
setting is unique and crucial to the story, the plot unfolds focusing primarily
on Nellie, played by, Matthew Kelly (Of Mice and Men; West End), who, having worked
at the bread factory for forty years, is unmistakably in need of retirement.
Coughing through many cigarettes and staring blankly at the wall, Nellie has a
strange way of evoking sympathy. The character has the fewest words yet is the
center of most of the play’s drama. Nelly’s performance was dry yet compelling.
He was given a few long and quiet moments alone on stage which became the
staple of his character.
Simon Greenall, John Wark, Matt Sutton and Kieran Knowles in TOAST. Photo by
six bakers, a student is brought to work on his first day. The student, played
by John Wark, comes across nervous and awkward. This awkwardness quickly
becomes unsettling as we learn more about him. Wark perfectly encapsulates the
mental instability of his character with moments of vulnerability as the
audience learns his character is not what he at first appeared to be. Nicolson
perfectly captures the indifferent and loyal factory manager of Blakey. Simon
Greenall is charming as Cecil, the older yet energetic optimist, giving the
audience a majority of the play’s mild physical comedy. Overall the
performances were impressive and gave a slightly stagnant plot, life and
brilliant direction of Eleanor Rhode, this revival is the perfect vehicle for
Bean’s clever writing and the play that began his prolific career.
East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $70
($49 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at
(212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. through Sunday, May 22.