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.
Tom Stoppard’s ambitious new play Leopoldstadt is a sweeping work of history and ideas which charts the diaspora and decline of an Austrian Jewish family through the convulsive events of the first half of the twentieth century. It addresses profound moral questions of identity, memory and prejudice that are insistently relevant in our time. It is not only a towering intellectual achievement, it is also very personally poignant because it is based partly on Stoppard’s own remarkable family history.
Leopoldstadt opened in the West End in January 2020, only to be closed prematurely by the pandemic a few weeks later. Happily it has returned to the London stage this Autumn, and I am privileged and delighted to talk in this episode with the director of the London productions, playwright Patrick Marber.
Footnotes Volume 3 is a recording of the facts and observations that we’ve published on the website to supplement the plays that we’ve covered in episodes 24-31. A smorgasbord of trivia and analysis ranging from Greek Tragedy to the stock characters of Commedia dell’Arte , through the music of Bob Dylan, the filming of Caryl Churchill’s Escaped Alone during lockdown, and the theatrical installations of Samuel Beckett.
A compendium of dramatic intelligence!
Samuel Beckett’s third great dramatic masterpiece Happy Days is a timeless exploration of existential threat and personal survival. It’s central image of Winnie buried in a mound of scorched earth also speaks to our own time when many have endured enforced confinement in a world struck by collective disaster.
Irish actress and Beckett scholar Lisa Dwan, fresh from her triumphant performance as Winnie at the Riverside Studios in London, joins us to share her unique experience of playing Beckett and this majestic 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 …