Monday, 21 August 2017

Review Salad Days

Salad Days
Book & Lyrics By Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds
Music By Julian Slade

Dancing In The Park

In 1955, so Wikipedia tells your theatregoing duo,  The Pajama Game won the award for Best Musical. However, tellingly, British musical Salad Days received the award for Most Enjoyable Show.

With an original story by Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds, Salad Days evokes nostalgically a fantastical 1920s' world around a well-connected toff and his equally upper class female pal. Although the latter, while a university graduate like her male counterpart, is destined for debutante balls and marriage rather than an influential public role.

Sunny-natured Lowri Hamer and gawky Laurie Denman make a fetching pair of chaste yet fun-loving graduates, Jane and Timothy.

They master the musical's restrained yet joyous style with Hamer's strength being a lucid soprano while Joanne McShane's choreography makes the most of Denman's windmill athleticism.

Jane and Timothy however defect from the destiny mapped out for them and search for a job on their own, well before the age of uni careers advice, online recruitment, zero hours contacts and Uber.

The two emerge from the idyllic years at, presumably, Cambridge University, throwing their lot together on a railway platform after graduation - cue the lovely duet "We Said We Wouldn't Look Back." The two like-minded chums subsequently also secretly contract a romantic, yet still rather convenient, marriage.

Lo and behold, in London they find themselves temporary caretakers on £7 a week for Minnie, an unlicensed magic piano, the plinking plonking notes of which incite a viral outbreak of rebellious dancing in everybody who hears them, "Oh Look At Me, I'm Dancing".

This all signals the start of some amazing earth- and air-bound adventures within a revue sketch structure.

The beauty parlour scene with Jane's mother Lady Raeburn (Sophie Millett) on the (non mobile) phone could have come straight out of a Joyce Grenfell sketch.

Yet the second act segues into Cleopatra nightclub (after all, the musical is named after a line from Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra and Timothy's uncles seem to have "Egyptian" connections).

Meanwhile a scene reminiscent of sci-fi classic The Day The Earth Stood Still transforms Maeve Byrne's vocally statuesque nightclub singer into a space alien.

A mention of 1950s movie bad girl Diana Dors brings in another futuristic note to a musical otherwise populated with good 1920s upper class gals like Jane and Fiona (Francesca Pim). 

Designer Catherine Morgan transforms the Union Theatre space into a cross between an English park and a Coronation street party with colourful bunting, a wooden bench and graceful twirly white seats reminiscent of the original (English!) Mary Shephard illustrations for Mary Poppins on an expanse of manicured green lawn. 

Add to this, Mike Lees' delightful costumes crisscrossing the decades to arrive at the 1950s with a detour again with Emma Lloyd's Rowena first into Mary Poppins' gingham territory and then capitalizing on the script's Wizard of Oz reference to produce a yellow road Dorothy in the second act mash up.    

On first blush, directed by Bryan Hodgson, Salad Days is a quaint, frothy fairytale asserting Englishness in an uncertain era when the United States had come to police the world and dominate the entertainment business.

Maybe the subversive notes also emerge more clearly in the Gilbert and Sullivan-like Hush Hush with Karl Moffatt playing one of a variety of Timothy's string-pulling, influential uncles.

"Don't ever ask where the Empire's gone ... Double cross your double locks ... Never reveal your age or sex .. Don't ever ask what the war was for/It's hush hush."

Equally so with the singing and dancing of the police inspector (Stephen Patrick) and his subordinate PC Boot (Tom Norman) to whom, we're told, the buck is always passed for the nefarious goings on in the park.

Salad Days evokes an innocent Zuleika Dobson world mixed with cheerful, if rather upper class, costermongery influenced by Noel Gay and Vivian Ellis, as well as Noel Coward and Ivor Novello. However there is also a light touch but very definite patina of Cold War, sexual and old-boy-network politics.

It of course also pre-dated the jolly ambience in American movie musical Mary Poppins, similarly endowed with an English park ethos 😉, and held the fort for British musicals until the onset of Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop and then record-breaking Oliver!.

The show reflects its Bristol Old Vic origins, where musical director Julian Slade and actress Dorothy Reynolds built the musical Salad Days around the talents of their company.

The catchy songs here have a charming simplicity and directness played by musical director Elliot Styche's three-piece band with actor musicians Tom Self, Laurie Denman and Lewis McBean variously on piano accompanied by bass and drums.

This is a cheerful piece reflecting a mix of seemingly traditional flapper musical with the concerns of 1950s Britain within a weather vane summer confection.  The digs at the status quo are sly but never undermine the musical's jolly, fresh air ambience as a family show.

Even though Monty Python's Flying Circus famously and bloodily lampooned Salad Days, surely the groundbreaking 1960s and 1970s satiric sketch show owes something to its dancing and hugging police officers?   Ah, that was the musical that was 😉! An upper range tuneful and sunshiny  amber light!

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