The Rosedale Street Bakehouse has seen far better times. Lower class, country Englishmen without choices work ungodly hours barely protected by a union whose rulebook is kept on hand. The break room in which we’re about to spend two very long hours is minimally furnished with metal tables, chairs, and a sink (water runs brown), a bulletin board and a dial-up pay phone. Through the filthy glass wall, we can see lights tracking machinery. James Turner’s Set Design is appropriately bleak, worn, and covered in flour.
Employees have few pleasures and no aspirations outside camaraderie. Good- natured foreman Blakey (Steve Nicolson) plays rock and roll guitar (execrably) in his off time. Dezzie (Kieran Knowles) just moved into a house where hot water comes out of a faucet! Cecil (Simon Greenall) is preoccupied with sex, particularly that which he’s not getting. (Beckett, he says, is shagging that girl in custards who has no teeth, which can be of benefit.) Long haired Peter (Matt Sutton) likes to play cards. The rather slow Nellie aka Walter (Matthew Kelly) has given 45 years of his life to the facility. Smoking is his only self indulgence. Colin (Will Barton), their union representative is an officious cipher. Accents, be warned, are, though undoubtedly accurate, extremely strong and often incomprehensible.
Simon Greenall, John Wark, Matt Sutton, Kieran Knowles
Aware the place will shortly be shuttered, Blakey and Colin have unknowingly applied for the same job at another bakehouse. No one else appears to have higher ambitions. Due to failure elsewhere, 3000 loaves are expected of the men, requiring an extended schedule – and it’s Sunday.
Into this tight-knit group, the boss has sent a fill-in, “adult student” Lance (John Wark), whose middle class clothes, educated vocabulary, and manner are out of place. Checking the substitute’s hands for dermatitis, Blakey notices scars on his wrists from attempted suicide. The newbe at first has difficulty even talking, but surprised at finding himself efficient, takes to his job with enthusiasm and slowly, if peripherally, joins his fellows. Later, you’ll have to decide whether Lance is delusional or an angel of death.
Matthew Kelly, John Wark
The men come in and out on cigarette and meal breaks: fish paste or cheese sandwiches. There’s ribbing, banter, and card games. Eventually, something goes radically amiss.
Playwright Richard Bean offers an unmistakably authentic scenario, but so little happens, it’s an effort to remain consistently interested. (The second act is better.) You’d never know the same man wrote One Man, Two Guvnors.
Every character is three dimensional, with Simon Greenall’s Cecil and John Wark’s Lance manifesting notable distinctions. Of the group, Matthew Kelly (Nellie) is the stand out in a role made challenging by its lack of overt expression. Kelly holds our attention in lengthy silences between monosyllabic responses. The character thinks simplistically and moves heavily. At a moment towards the end, he comes unexpectedly and palpably to life.
Eleanor Bean’s Direction helps color her characters. Staging is effective. Holly Rose Henshaw’s Costumes set tone, class, and place perfectly. Her conception of Lance fits like a puzzle piece. Sound Design by Max Pappenheim is so real, it’s rather unnerving. We hear the hum of big machinery from the get-go, echoing voices of those who attempt to solve a problem on the floor, and malfunctions that rock the room.
Photos by Oliver King
Opening: Steve Nicolson, Simon Greenall, Will Barton, Matthew Kelly, Matt Sutton
Brits Off Broadway and
Snapdragon Productions present
Toast by Richard Bean
Directed by Eleanor Rhode
59E 59 Theaters
59 East 59th Street
Through May 22, 2016