If you’re a fan of British theater and want to enjoy some fine acting, then you may want to help yourself to a slice of Toast.
Now playing at 59E59 Theaters as part of the Brits Off-Broadway season, this quirky play by Richard Bean tells the amusing story of an English bread factory in 1975 with antiquated hygiene levels -- or more accurately, the lack thereof. During a Sunday night shift with all the workers understandably wishing they were somewhere else, a crisis occurs on the factory floor. Soon, political and economic factors have come into play, pushing the workers to take matters into their own hands.
There is a strong sense of ensemble among the all-male cast, all of whom portray fully-realized characters with great skill and talent. The high caliber of award-studded acting talent, led by Matthew Kelly, is impressive; Richard Bean’s script allows the actors the chance to convey their characters' life stories clearly and convincingly. I suspect director Eleanor Rhode was granted a less than stressful job when handed the gift of such a great cast. James Turner’s set design reaches new heights in its impeccable attention to detail; the disgusting state of the canteen where employees spend their cigarette breaks, flour-drenched and filled with piles of soggy teabags, added character.
Although rather slow paced to begin with, an unexpected character reveal at the end of the first half of the play, as well as a cliffhanger emergency situation in the factory, set the stage for a faster paced second act. Some of the British colloquialisms were perhaps unappreciated by many audience members; those who are not au fait with the British sense of humor may feel a little lost at times. Still, it is easy to warm to every character in this offbeat story.
Note: Real cigarettes are used during performance.