Toast of London Review: Best In Season?

TOAST OF LONDON: Monday 20th August, Channel 4, 10pm

Channel 4’s comedy series Funny Fortnight continued apace this evening and Toast of London will certainly take some beating over the next two weeks. With Father Ted co-creater Arthur Matthews and The IT Crowd’s Matt Berry on writing duties our expectations were high and this pilot didn’t disappoint.

Berry also stars as washed-up 40-something thesp Steven Toast, who despite once being a fixture of prestigious television dramas, is down on his luck and finding acting gigs hard to come by. This wasn’t helped by his appearance in a controversial West End play that’s the subject of protests and scorn from an appalled British public.

Following his recent divorce, Toast is currently staying with his friend Ed Howzer (Robert Bathurst); kipping on an uncomfortable small chair in a room with paper-thin walls that exposes him to the sounds of Ed “going through the gearsâ€? with his elderly mistress Goodhouse.

It’s clear our hapless subject brings many of his problems upon himself. Early on we witness him getting caught going at it with the wife of rival actor Ray Purchase (Harry Peacock), leading to an amusingly farcical moment as Purchase takes an axe to the wardrobe Toast is harboured in.

Toast is then persuaded to audition as a gay bent copper in the long-running television series Inspector Somerset by his agent (Fiona Mollison). It’s a far from ideal scenario though, given that the producer of the show is currently banged-up for Holocaust denial; so the audition takes place in a prison visiting room.

Toast’s humiliation continues as he fails to satisfy a team of producers during an audition for a Soho radio show, despite only being required to yell the word “yesâ€? into a microphone. Things then start to go a bit Singing Detective as the audition segued into a refreshingly surreal musical interlude.

Since British sitcom’s Year Zero a decade ago, spearheaded by the international success of The Office, modern comedies have tended to shy away from broad studio-based laughs in favour of single-camera uber-realism (despite the odd noted exception – Green Wing, Boosh). Toast of London provides proof that there is still mileage in slapstick humour with its high-end farce. Mrs Brown’s Boys this is not.

Berry’s performance is idiosyncratically bombastic and hammy, bearing all the familiarity of a woolly Christmas jumper, and Toast of London is all the better for it. The show’s promising start should ensure a full series is commissioned in the near future.