Nigel Slater’s Toast – Footnotes
… “and be your best all day!” Nigel’s Dad has been persuaded by the advertisements from the Egg Marketing Board that if Nigel were to consume more eggs he would take a proper interest in masculine pursuits such as sports, rather than cooking. The image of Sam, the healthy young boy tucking into his breakfast eggs, along with the benefits of “protein, iron and vitamins”, is enough to convince Dad that “If you can see a healthy, sporty boy who can’t eat enough eggs and a spotty nancy boy who won’t eat any, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that eggs are the answer.”
The newspaper ads that Nigel was force fed were part of a long running campaign by the Egg Marketing Board that ran from 1957 to 1971, and included a famous series of TV ads featuring the comedian Tony Hancock that first appeared in 1965. Dad’s hope that the consumption of eggs would enhance his son’s sporting abilities was perhaps specifically engendered by an ad that featured the footballer George Best, who answers a letter from Sam with the exhortation: “I think you are quite right about having a proper egg breakfast everyday to do your best (no pun intended!), and always have one myself.” It must work!
Bournemouth or Blackpool
One of the rituals that remains most strongly in our memories from childhood are the family holidays. There is a wonderful evocation in the play of the Slater’s seaside holiday in Bournemouth, complete with recreations of formal meals in the hotel dining room, chicken sandwiches instead of fish and chips at the beach side cafe, and evening walks along the beach. The chosen holiday destination was also a statement about class, as are particular brands of food: Heinz ketchup, Salad cream, Camp Coffee and any brand of tea other than Twinings are “a bit common”.
Such trivial snobbishness can be difficult to shed, and may inform our wider judgements. There is definitely a suggestion of class differences and discomfort, for example, in the character of Nigel’s stepmother, Joan Potter, whose language and preferences do not proclaim the same background as the Slaters. This is underlined in Nigel’s original memoir by her choosing Blackpool rather than Bournemouth for the next holiday, with predictably miserable consequences.
David Mamet’s play Oleanna about the abuse of patriarchal power caused intense controversy and divided audiences when it was first produced in 1992. It is now being revived at the Theatre Royal Bath. How will we see the sensitive issues it raises differently nearly 30 years on in the light of the #MeToo movement? The acclaimed director of this new production, Lucy Bailey, joins me to explore this explosive work.
Note: this episode contains some strong language.
Kenneth Cranham and Claire Skinner c Simon Annand
Florian Zeller’s disturbing and moving play The Father presents a piercing portrait of a family living with dementia. Anyone who has witnessed the cruel effects of the disease will recognise painful truths in the play, and everyone will be unsettled by its inventive dramatic form. The Father premiered in Bath in 2014 before award-winning runs in London and on Broadway. It has now also been made into a feature film with Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Coleman due for UK release in January 2021. I’m delighted and honoured to be joined in this episode by the renowned playwright and screenwriter Sir Christopher Hampton, who translated the original play and co-wrote the film’s screenplay
Winsome Pinnock’s powerful new play Rockets and Blue Lights explores the continuing legacy of the slave trade by allowing the lost voices of the past to merge into our current re-examination of history and black identity. The play won the 2019 Alfred Fagon Award and was in preview at the Manchester Royal Exchange earlier in 2020 when the Covid pandemic cruelly closed our theatres. I’m especially honoured during Black History Month to talk with Winsome Pinnock about her wonderful play.
Before the theatres went dark this month I was lucky enough to see Caryl Churchill’s A Number at the Bridge, and spend more than seven hours in thrall to Robert Lepage’s Seven Streams of the River Ota at the National. Plus, some thoughts on what we miss when there is no theatre.
Another great mix of shows this month, from Tom Stoppard’s new play, to Ibsen, Beckett and newer plays in smaller London venues.
The January roundup included both classic plays, such as The Duchess of Malfi, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, as well as recent musicals Dear Evan Hansen and Girl from the North Country …