Burnt Toast

Sat 12th – Sat 26th August 2017

reviews

Sian Bayley

at 12:56 on 14th Aug 2017

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When I heard that this absurdist piece of new writing by Guy Hodgkinson featured copious amounts of Viennetta ice cream, I was immediately hooked. After all, who doesn’t like Viennetta? Wall’s favourite ice-cream is far more symbolic than delicious, however, in Hodgkinson’s ‘Burnt Toast’; a fresh and exciting production that explores the complexities and idiosyncrasies of relationships.

The play begins with Quick Pol (Laure Stockley) and Average Alfred (Jaz Hutchins) in bed together, describing their morning routine. Pol makes Al’s breakfast, taking great care to ensure all the elements are perfect, except the toast, which must be burnt. As she explains, it gives her a thrill going to ‘all this trouble for a little bit of disappointment’. Her words appear bizarre, but are nevertheless understandable. After all, there is something wonderful about choosing to reject perfection.

Just as burnt toast comes to stand for their steady (if slightly boring) relationship, Viennetta symbolises Pol’s fraught relationship with her absent mother. Recalling that it is the fifteenth anniversary of the year she left, Pol recites the story of the ice-cream fight her and her mother had before she ran away, and demands Al buys her some Viennetta so that she can re-enact it. Al, however, is tired of this ritual and wants Pol to move on with her life and grow her relationship with him – by eating oranges, of course.

Burnt toast, Viennetta, and oranges are definitely strange foodstuffs to be chosen to harbour significant meaning, but manage to work regardless. Hodgkinson’s play is often lyrical, with beautifully idiosyncratic turns of phrase such as ‘she fills me up like a bath’, that enable the work to convey a much deeper meaning than its title lets on. The play is surprisingly emotional, and makes an effort to focus on the problems in Al and Pol’s relationship, eliciting some commendably raw performances from and Stockley and Hutchins.

That’s not to say that the piece isn’t meant to be comical, however. The Spanish brothers, Miguel and Hernandez, provide many laughs, and offer some light relief in the tense emotional moments between Pol, Al, and Shelly. In some instances, however, their presence can feel forced and unnecessary, and it is unclear why Hodgkinson needed to incorporate a Spanish pair, other than to make fun of their accents. A particularly lengthy scene about Cordelia the chicken likewise felt misplaced and made the play difficult to follow, even allowing for the fact that it is an absurdist piece.

The end is also confusing, appearing to jump forward in time with no explanation of what has happened in between. But ‘Burnt Toast’ is nevertheless a fun and engaging piece of work that entertains audiences as well as make them think about their own lives.

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Elena Casale

at 19:11 on 15th Aug 2017

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‘Burnt Toast’ is both wonderfully simple and frustratingly complex. Set in a stagnant town called Saxilby, the play gravitates around ‘Quick Pol’, played by Laure Stockley: a young woman grappling with abandonment issues since her mother left her. Pol relates the last moment she saw her mum to her boyfriend Alfred, describing their affectionate food-fight with Viennetta. Viennetta adopts a heavy latent emotional symbolism, a commitment Pol has to her absent mother. The devoted Alfred tries to help her overcome this by offering Pol a symbol of their own relationship; oranges. There's a lurking suspicion that she must choose one or the other.

Laure Stockley and Kate Kelly delicately capture the awkward mix of affection and resentment in the moment mother and daughter re-connect. ‘You don’t need to be stuck just because I ran’, Pol is told, and yet this doesn’t come as the tender revelation you might expect. The scene is so convincingly portrayed I found myself wondering whether Stockley and Kelly were actually related. Equally well orchestrated were moments where interactions were syncopated. Alfred and Pol's debut scene has them describe their intimate breakfast ritual in parallel but not with each other - it's truly mesmerising.

The detail and complexity in which characters are explored is a wonder to behold. Whether its the fragile, self-destructive but equally loveable Pol, the loyal and devoted Alfred, the cheeky Spanish Miguel and Hernandez, or the jealous and manipulative Penelope, each are afforded a similar arc of development which affirms the realism of the play. Having Polly and Alfred as sole protagonists would have reduced its ambitious message: you can’t have minor characters in life – each person is equally involved and complex. The only criticism I would have for Hodgkinson is that I think this could have been further exploited with more scenes and characters, as it stands there's still a slight distinction between the three central characters and three minor ones.

The constant re-working of possibilities for conclusion means that, by the end, we are desperate to know what Pol will do. The final scene seems abrupt and incomplete: Pol says she will have oranges with Alfred, and yet proceeds to throw Viennetta. However this symbolic choice again affirms the message of the play – human relationships are not easily navigable. 'Burnt Toast' is an absurdist play that is strikingly real, and it’s one of the crueller facts of the Fringe that such a hidden gem can play to a sparse audience. Don’t miss it.

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