Toast retains its crunch

9 May 2022

Despite last minute cast changes, Liz Newell’s Toast continues to shine in its second season, writes Claire Trolio.

Review: Toast, Black Swan State Theatre Company of WA and The Blue Room Theatre ·
Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA, 7 May 2022 ·

Packing up the family home can be one of the most confronting and emotional experiences. Sifting through memories from your formative years and choosing what items to discard, whilst also grappling with the loss of all that home represents, is a lot.

So when the catalyst is the death of a parent, the dark cloud of grief makes every decision more loaded, and even the good memories bittersweet.

It’s a ripe setting for the conversation about family and identity that is Liz Newell’s play Toast.

Toast premiered at The Blue Room Theatre back in 2017 and hit the State Theatre Centre stage last week, in the second collaboration between The Blue Room and Black Swan State Theatre Company. It’s a partnership that provides a stepping stone for early-career artists like Newell, whose work is thoroughly deserving of the budget, development and audience reach that WA’s flagship theatre company can provide.

A testament to the original production, the core creative team remains the same five years later.

Set almost entirely in the garage of a suburban home, three sisters unpack their grief and personal demons while packing up the house. Sally Phipps has expertly created the garage in a box, Framed in white it’s reminiscent of a photograph; a slice of suburban life, a snapshot of time, the detail precise.

In rehearsals for ‘Toast’: Amy Mathews (Alex), Alison van Reeken (Candice) and Sam Nerida (playing Gwen in this photo). Photo: Daniel James Grant

Floating in and out of the garage is pragmatic eldest sister Candice (Alison van Reeken), whose way of processing her mother’s death and crumbling marriage is to get the property ready to sell as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, newly sober Alex (Amy Mathews) is desperately trying to find peace and comfort in her mum’s old Tupperware rather than the bottle, and adopted little sister Sydney (Sam Nerida) wonders if there’s still a place in the family for her now that the person who took her in has gone. On the fringe flits real estate agent Gwen (Teresa Jakovich).

Both Van Reeken and Mathews are superb in their reprised roles. Van Reeken ensures that rigid Candice is given plenty of depth while Mathews’ Alex walks the tightrope of addiction with intensity. Both bring out the humour in Newell’s writing.

Sadly, a broken leg meant that Anna Lindstedt was not able to take to the stage Sydney as planned. Sam Nerida, who played Gwen at The Blue Room and was originally cast in that role again, stepped into Lindstedt’s shoes and nailed it. They brought an innocence and earnestness that tugged at the heartstrings of the audience.

In a dialogue-heavy work as this is, the chemistry between the three leads is crucial. I have no doubt that Lindstedt would have aced the role as she did five years ago, but in her absence, recasting Nerida really was the next best thing.

Standby Teresa Jakovich filled the minor role of Gwen, accompanied by, but with minimal reliance on, the paper script. Gwen’s purpose in the play is to help characterise the sisters, and I really enjoyed a flirtatious subtext between her and Sydney.

Director Emily McLean has done an incredible job of ensuring the thoughtful, articulate script is artfully presented, in the face of some rotten luck. Once the team settles into the new casting configuration some more, Toast will shine even brighter.

Toast continues at the Studio Underground until 15 May 2022.

Pictured top are Amy Matthews and Alison van Reeken in rehearsals for ‘Toast’. Photo: Daniel James Grant

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Author —
Claire Trolio

Claire Trolio completed a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) and a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) at UWA. She writes about Western Australia for various digital and print media and owns a shop with her sister. For her, the spider swing is the ultimate in playground fun.

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