Giles Cooper: Next Stage Youth class of '98

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It was a delight to go up to London last week to see Toast at The Other Palace Theatre, in which one of Next Stage Youth’s members from 1998 is starring in this auto-biographical play about celebrity chef: Nigel Slater.

Giles Cooper (bottom right) in  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Giles Cooper (bottom right) in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Giles Cooper first trod the boards with the company in our 1998 production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard. Appearing as one of the troupe of actors, alongside a youthful John Matthews as the Player (not to mention an even more youthful Andrew Ellison as Rosencrantz) Giles was at that time studying at Kingswood School, Bath.

Giles Cooper, Dave Dunn and Caroline Groom backstage at The Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough (2000)

Giles Cooper, Dave Dunn and Caroline Groom backstage at The Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough (2000)

In 1999 Giles toured with Next Stage actors Caroline Groom and Dave Dunn to the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough to perform in front of company Patron, Sir Alan Ayckbourn in Sir David Hare’s Skylight. After this exciting experience Giles left the company as he took up a place at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

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Ann and Andrew Ellison next caught up with Giles when he was touring with Ruby Wax in The Witches in 2004. Since then Giles has pursued an ever more successful theatrical career including appearances at The National Theatre and The Globe Theatre in London. Giles has also worked on films and appeared on TV.

Now, 20 years from when Giles worked with Next Stage youth and adult companies, he is a West-End star! In Toast Giles never leaves the stage and holds the audience captivated with an entertaining and nuanced performance. Giles’ versatility and range is extraordinary as the production of Toast includes ingenious physical theatre and a moving story line in which Giles has to age convincingly from 7-17 years old . Along with the rest of the talented company, Giles dances, fights and cooks on stage. One moment the audience is laughing at the young Nigel Slater’s antics, the next they are moved to tears. Add to this entertaining play the delicious fact that food and sweeties are given out to the audience throughout the production, and you have a perfect night out!

Hurry though, Toast closes in the West End at the end of this week before the national tour in which Giles will be recreating the role of the young Nigel Slater.

Congratulations from all at Next Stage to Giles.

Giles Cooper and Lizzie Muncey in  Toast  (2019)

Giles Cooper and Lizzie Muncey in Toast (2019)

An extract from Time Out, London’s 4 star review of Toast:

Director Jonnie Riordan’s production is light and fluid: a heightened reality of family life and cooking sessions that take place against a kitchen set that looks like an illustration. At regular intervals, the cast pass cakes and sweets to the audience, tickling memories as well as taste-buds.

But while ‘Toast’ isn’t averse to nostalgia for a time of local butchers and old-fashioned sweet shops, a tartness undercuts the cloyingness. Dad’s patrolling of the ‘appropriate’ food for boys stirs a dollop of homophobia into the already complicated personal recipe of gay teen Nigel.

Cooper touchingly captures the young Nigel’s early culinary fussiness, blending this with confusion and aching vulnerability when Mum dies. Before this happens, he and Muncey are delightful together, bonding over a mixing bowl. In contrast, Marie Lawrence is deliciously over-the-top as Nigel’s perception of Joan: all piled hair, eye rolls and fags.

A ’60s soundtrack and funny fantasy sequences (mostly involving Joan) make for a pacier second half. But, crucially, ‘Toast’ also works out when to slow down. For all the preceding, audience-winking, ‘here’s one we made earlier’ food, a pivotal scene when Nigel invents – for the first time – a recipe and Cooper makes it from scratch on stage packs a genuine wallop. It’s a well-seasoned ending.

By Tom Wicker, April 12th 2019