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.
Girl from the North Country is an extraordinary collaboration between the playwright Conor McPherson and the musician and song writer Bob Dylan. The result is a magical work where McPherson’s portrait of families struggling to survive in Depression America is transfigured into an uplifting theatrical experience by the ravishing period arrangements of Dylan’s songs.
The play opened at the Old Vic Theatre in London in 2017 to a rapturous response and reviews, and was followed by runs in the West End and New York.
This is a very special episode, first because I am privileged to talk with none other than the play’s author Conor McPherson, and secondly because we have also been given kind permission to include several extracts from the original cast recording of the music from the first London production.
Garry Essendine is a star of the London stage with an ego and celebrity lifestyle to match. But as he passes forty his excesses threaten to bring down the entire structure of his professional and personal life. Essendine is the thinly disguised alter-ego of playwright and performer Noel Coward, whose tussle with his own fame is the subject of his classic 3-act, 4-door farce Present Laughter. First performed in 1942 with Coward himself as the lead, the play has since attracted a glittering list of stars who could not resist the flamboyant turn, including most recently Andrew Scott in an Olivier award-winning performance at the Old Vic in 2019. Joining me to reexamine Coward’s ‘light comedy’ in the 21st century is theatrical agent and Coward aficionado, Alan Brodie.
One Podcast Two Plays! Carlo Goldoni’s Commedia dell’Arte classic A Servant to Two Masters and Richard Bean’s hilarious update One Man Two Guvnors. We explore all of the ingredients of the original play in the tradition of Commedia dell’Arte, as well as how Bean translated these so successfully into his smash hit at the National Theatre. Writer and director Justin Greene joins me to sample this multi-course theatrical banquet. (Commedia afficionados will appreciate the gourmet references!).
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 …