Here’s a fun game to play: If you had to choose, which would you rather? Eat nothing but pizza forever, or never have a slice again? How about condiments? Ketchup or Mayo? What’s your favourite utensil? How about choosing between 18 months to live or five years. Appears quite a simple choice, right? Written by Benjamin Storey, who also portrays Joe, Toast features the C-word: Cancer. In their second appearance at Assembly Roxy’s Formation Festival, Interabang Productions examines the stress, anguish and yes, even laughs, a young couple face when one faces the reality of terminal cancer.
In an age of scaremongering headlines, genuine medical advice is overwhelmed by clickbait articles. It’s laced throughout the production through the tubs of ‘pro-life’ butter, Facebook articles and even the title – because burnt toast (as we all know) causes cancer. That’s how Joe likes his toast, feeling that you can’t micro-manage everything, to just chase your dreams. Living with his partner Mel (Rachel Flynn), the two of them share a life we can relate too: soon graduating, arguing over TV and coming to grips with life’s shitty curveballs.
Storey’s performance, as well as his writing, is mortal in composition. There is no place here for melodrama. The points of hyper-reaction are the moments in which we would respond this way. It’s an incredibly subtle performance, channelling the stages of anger, depression and denial we all find in grief. Yet, it’s also strikingly funny; you’ll never find yourself laughing so much at mortality again. The production takes around ten minutes to get into its rhythm, but from this point it’s a powerful piece of turmoil, love and – above all – humanity.
Framed against multiple projected backdrops, the lighting does an enormous job in setting the tone. The clean set design too complements Ryan Dewar‘s straight-forward direction. The use of multimedia adds to the drama’s impact; one critical scene where the narrative moves to a live video-feed, where Flynn and Storey share a tender 3am moment, is as compassionate as it is gut-wrenching.
Following on from her creative and performing role in Interabang’s other production, Being Liza, Rachel Flynn is laying all her talents bare. Toast would simply not work without capable leads. The emotional dexterity demanded by Toast is tough, as both leads not only have to convey cancer’s destructive path but the love these two share. In such a short space of time, Flynn bounces off of Storey, heightening his performance while driving her own. Her natural charm effortlessly conveys to the audience why this relationship works. Getting away with the cheesiest of routines, lifting them into reality, both Flynn and Storey have an uncannily rare ability to capture those genuine moments of realness.
It is in the final moments of the production – in a promise made by Mel to Joe – that Flynn’s ability is evident. Albeit a brief and perhaps predictable scene, the direction, the pain and the connection Flynn achieves with the audience is more transparent than any forced moment of empathy. It’s beautiful in how haunting the ending manages to be.
Toast carries weight to it, which isn’t grotesque enough to put people off but maintains a dignity to be proud of. So what would you do, given the choice? It’s one we would never wish to make, especially so young. Interabang Productions seem to be taking bold steps in their outing productions, not shying away from the raw emotion underneath. Given the evident and commendable talent demonstrated by their performers, writers and creatives, there’s surely a promising future ahead for all involved.