The Theatreguide.London Review
Park Theatre Autumn 2014
First novels are about the writer's first romance; first plays are about his first job. That's not always true, with either type of writing, but in his first major play Richard Bean followed the model of O'Neill (merchant ship), Miller (factory), Wesker (restaurant kitchen) and others with a play inspired by his year as a teenager working in a commercial bread bakery.
Bean asserts in a note to the text that although he doesn't appear in his 1999 debut play Toast, the characters are all based on real people, and it is in the characters more than the plot that the interest of the play lies.
We're in a bread factory on the Sunday night shift, when the men either desperately need the money or have nothing better to do with their time. Not a whole lot happens – they deal with a couple of almost routine crises – but the point of the play is for us to get to know them and their lives.
There's a foreman who hates his job but knows that as an ex-con it's the best he's likely to get, a union rep with secret ambitions, a dim young guy, an almost robotic veteran with no life outside work, and others. They joke, they grumble, they let us see a little of their lives and personalities, and they get on with the job.
As with others of the genre, the strength of the play lies in the picture it paints of the working day and the depth and roundness of the characterisations. And the limitations of this particular play lie in the fact that it doesn't give us a great deal of either.
Unlike, say, Wesker's The Kitchen, which is immersed in the routines and rhythms of a restaurant kitchen, Toast is set in the men's break room, and most of what we see are the cigarette and lunch breaks when they're not working.
They keep going off to places called Mixing or Oven, but we don't see any of that, and except for one important sequence near the end, nothing they do in those other places comes back into this room for us to watch.
Meanwhile, the characters aren't developed much beyond the quick labels I gave some of them earlier. The dim guy has a wife and a new home and rather likes being with both, a jolly older guy may enjoy joking with the guys because his home life is empty, a temp worker is clearly unbalanced but we get some hints that he is more sad than funny.
These, and some solid acting throughout, may be enough to carry the evening for you, but you are likely to find it a bit thin.
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Review - Toast - Park Theatre 2014