Reviewed by Tatum Stafford
Often, stories that may seem simple on the surface have the ability to unlock a plethora of emotions, memories, and understandings amongst their audiences. Toast, the latest production from Black Swan Theatre Company, is the perfect example of this.
Toast first premiered in Perth at the Blue Room in 2017, when it picked up Best Production and Best Performance at the Blue Room Theatre awards. Its fresh production here at Studio Underground is remarkable, and showcases plenty of Perth talent, from its performers to its production team.
The overarching premise of the show is presented in its beautiful first scene, featuring three vignettes of three sisters who are learning about and processing their mother’s passing in different ways. As they reconnect with one another, reminisce, and start to divide up their mother’s belongings, they learn that their childhood home is going to be sold.
The comradery and familial love between these three very different sisters is beautifully familiar. Alison Van Reeken (Candice), Amy Matthews (Alex) and Sam Nerida (Sydney) work marvellously together. Matthews’ performance, in particular, featured many nuanced moments that gave the audience a glimpse into Alex’s troubling relationship with alcohol and addiction. Van Reeken’s character, Candice, was also very multi-faceted and beautifully portrayed in a very energetic and committed performance. Sam Nerida was a last-minute ‘Sydney’ due to a cast injury in the early run of the show, and they also give a stunning performance which gifted us with a few much-needed moments of levity throughout the somewhat poignant and sad storyline. The fourth actor in the piece, Teresa Jakovich, brought plenty of punchiness and verve to ‘Gwen’, the real estate agent tasked with selling the home.
Toast was written by Liz Newell, a graduate of Black Swan’s Emerging Writers’ Group in 2014, and a phenomenal writer. They have created a really heartfelt piece which, when paired with Emily McLean’s beautiful and considered direction, evoke a familiar sadness that many in the audience may relate to, when a loved one or family member passes and leaves a lot of confusion (as well as physical possessions) behind for others to make decisions about.
The set, designed by Sally Phipps (who also worked on the show’s costumes), was a real treat to view, particularly as the story unfolded and more and more of it was slowly removed to indicate the sisters’ progress in dividing and packing up their mother’s items. This was a massive highlight, and elicited many ‘ah-ha’ moments from audience members around me. There were also some gorgeous sound design elements – fantastic work from composer and sound designer Rachael Dease, and sound design assistant Georgia Snudden. Lighting from Lucy Birkinshaw was also fantastic to watch, and helped craft some of the show’s more sombre and quiet moments.
This incredibly relatable and heartfelt show was a real joy to watch. The performers, production team and creatives should be congratulated for their authenticity in telling this story, and creating such a beautiful piece of theatre that I hope many will get to see (in future productions) in the years to come.
Image Credit: Birdhouse Media