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.
Tennessee Williams breakthrough playThe Glass Menagerie is a very personal portrait of Williams’ own flawed family. It first opened on Broadway in March 1945 to rave reviews, it’s box office success catapulting its 34-year old author to fame and fortune. The play is now a standard on educational curricula and theatrical programs, loved for its heart-wrenching portrayal of the hopes and disappointments of its characters, and admired for its theatrical technique and poetic dramatic language.
The play was brilliantly staged in 2013 on Broadway in a production directed by John Tiffany, which was revived in 2017 in London’s West End, and I am absolutely delighted to be joined in this episode by the director himself, John Tiffany, to share his insights into this enduring classic.
It is 2:00 am, and George and Martha have invited a young couple for after-party drinks to their home on a New England university campus. What follows is arguably the most extended and vitriolic marital argument ever staged. Over four hours of drunken skirmishing George and Martha tear strips off each other and their young guests, in a terrifying mix of games playing and truth telling, fuelled by anger, shame, disappointment, hatred and possibly even love. As the hostilities intensify both couples are forced to face unvarnished and difficult truths about themselves and their relationships. This is American playwright Edward Albee’s classic play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which opened on Broadway in 1962, and was greeted by both moral outrage and critical acclaim. Both types of review contributed to its run-away box-office success, and led to the 1966 Oscar-winning film version with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.
Joining me to survey the damage of this blistering marital battle are John Mitchinson and Andy MIller, the co-hosts of the award-winning podcast Backlisted, which as its strap line declares “gives new life to old books”.
It is 1759 in East Anglia. A child has been murdered and a young woman has been convicted to hang for the crime. She ‘pleads her belly’ and a jury of matrons must determine if she is truly with child and thus may escape the gallows. Lucy Kirkwood’s powerful play The Welkin, is an historical thriller and a tense courtroom drama, as well as a vivid representation of the real burdens that women carry in a patriarchal world of any age.
The Welkin premiered at the National Theatre in January 2020 before its run was cruelly cut short by the first Covid lockdown. I’m delighted to be joined by the author herself to talk about her rich new 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 …