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Salad Days

by on 12 September 2018

The Time of My Life

Salad Days

by Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds

Regan De Wynter Williams Productions at Richmond Theatre until 15th September, then on tour until 17th November

Review by Andrew Lawston

Salad Days is a jaunty, carefree musical that may be light on drama, but is perfect to blow away the autumn blues of a damp September evening in Richmond. This new touring production of Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds’ classic 1950s musical is directed by Bryan Hodgson and stars Wendi Peters.

The story of new graduates Tim (Mark Anderson, but ably understudied by Lewis McBean) and Jane (Jessica Croll) getting married and falling in love – but not in that order – is told at a brisk pace, and their relationship is frequently relegated to the background as the cast of characters around them grows ever more surreal.

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The chaos caused by a magic piano loaned to Tim and Jane begins with elastic-legged constables and tumbling bishops, before becoming a very genteel national crisis, drawing in police inspectors with an unexpected passion for dance, and several men from the ministry.

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The secondary couple of Nigel (James Gulliford) and Fiona (Francesca Pim) takes a while to get going, with Fiona’s deliriously peppy debutante character not appearing until Act Two, but their developing relationship is useful in a show where the leads are happily married long before the interval.

Strong performances from the central couple help them hold their own as the story dissolves ever further into joyful chaos in the second act, before one key moment, which seems to come as a surprise to a large section of the audience, tips the tone into pure fantasy.

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There are a few moments where the energy seems to dip during spoken comedy scenes which rely on split-second timing, and entrances and cues could be tightened up. Perhaps this is simply a symptom of being so early in the tour, and of two understudies being called upon for the performance – Bradley Judge also standing in for several supporting characters, and giving great performances in all cases.

 

A visibly delighted Wendi Peters moves confidently between characters at high speed, before settling on Lady Raeburn towards the end of the second act. It’s possible that some of the comedy material from the script has not aged as well as the lively musical numbers. However, the physical comedy injected into set piece scenes such as Gusset Creations, the hairdresser, and during “The Saucer Song” sequence more than makes up for the odd one-liner that would now be considered tired even for some Christmas crackers.

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Director Bryan Hodgson has said that he wanted nothing more than to put a smile on people’s faces and a tap in their toes, and he certainly seems to have achieved this. Joanne McShane’s choreography is energetic as characters begin to dance spontaneously with comic expressions of varying degrees of alarm and disgust, before letting the music take them over. “Oh Look at Me, I’m Dancing!” is particularly infectious and frequently reprised, until many in the audience are singing along.

The minimal on-stage band of bass and drums, and with Dan Smith on piano who doubles as both the Tramp and Musical Director, achieve a huge, rich, and varied sound, and gives us the priceless moment of the Musical Director tapping insistently at a key in order to correct a hesitant singer’s pitch.

Mike Lees’ simple but effective design evokes the era perfectly, bringing a shade of Tim Burton-style suburbia to the closely-mown grass and park bandstand. It sums up the production as a whole: an old favourite that has been dusted down and given a slightly knowing modern gloss, but all in the best interests of showcasing the source material.

Andrew Lawston
September 2018

Photography by Mark Senior

From → Musicals, Reviews

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