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Toast — Review

The title of Toast, People You Know’s latest play, has a double meaning. It references both a toast as would be made in a tribute, and the more colloquial, informal phrase, ‘you’re toast’. The wit of the title is a good indicator of what the play offers on the whole; a brief, intriguing glimpse into the lives of a group of friends, and the more insidious aspects concealed within their friendship. Produced by Charlotte Gruendling, Toast takes place in the hour before characters Tash (Iris Hedley) and Dan (Matt McCaffrey) throw an engagement party, only inviting their closest friends beforehand, Ollie (Theo Mackenzie) and Margot (Liza Vasilyeva).

If three words described the play, they would be ‘curveball, sinister, and uneasy or disturbing,’ said Maisie Michaelson-Friend and Ava Cecile Reid Samans, the writer and directors of the play, respectively. Both must be commended for the quality of the production. Michaelson-Friend’s writing is both striking and coherent; the story grows increasingly disconcerting, and characterisation is generally realistic and fleshed out. The direction and staging of characters was also impressive, with the lighting and set design additionally creating excellent atmosphere.

Actors brought plenty of realism and energy to the play. Iris Hedley’s Tash gave undoubtedly one of the most natural and emotional performances, fitting the character well and rendering her more sympathetic to the audience. Michaleson-Friend stated that ‘you really feel for her and you understand why her flaws are like that.’ Matt McCaffrey as Dan was accomplished and convincing in his acting, particularly good at a nonchalant humour fitting to his character. His performance, however, could have done with more variety, as opposed to portraying a character who is, from the beginning, mildly villainous. 

Theo Mackenzie was an endearing Ollie, bringing energy and affability to his performance, and Liza Vasilyeva as Margot was simultaneously amusing and impactful in her role. The humour of the script shone in the initial moments of the play with well-delivered one-liners, and was reaffirmed by the appearance of Callum Wardman-Browne’s Harry, whose character brings comedy and a ‘shocking comic relief’ to the play, in the words of Michaelson-Friend. 

Interestingly, the play is staged in the round. This posed certain drawbacks, in that at times, actors had their backs to certain audience members in particularly emotional or important scenes. There was, nonetheless, merit in the decision; audience members are literally watching conversation and conflict unravel ‘over the shoulders’ of characters. Speaking about the decision to stage Toast in the round, Reid Samans stated that it gave ‘the sense of being a fly on the wall, you’re always watching the actors. At no point do the actors leave the stage, they’re always in character.’ This was a striking and memorable aspect of the show. 

Michaelson-Friend said that this is a play ‘about all types of relationships, friendship and romantic. It deals with some heavier topics. But I think at the heart of it, it is a play about relationships and friendships. Everything else adds to that, kind of.’ If there is one criticism I have for this play, it is that Toast does not make a clear-cut statement; it is more an exploration of these characters, their complexities and flaws, and what happens with those flaws when they are set against one another in the frame of social interaction. 

With its open ending, there is not much of a message behind Toast — more a general feeling of unease. It lacks a ‘satisfying’ ending; but then, in real life, satisfying endings don’t exactly happen either. This is an impressive script and storyline, upheld by solid performances and accomplished direction. Toast, in the words of its writer, is about ‘the stories of people you could know.’

Photo by Emma Dalton & Sophie Edmunds

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