Directed by Bryan Hodgson, this is the fourth revival of 1950s musical Salad Days, currently on tour direct from London’s award-winning Union Theatre. Composed by Julian Slade with lyrics by Dorothy Reynolds, judging from the packed house at Theatre Royal Bath many are extremely pleased to be seeing it again. I say ‘again’ as I heard many audience members harking back to the last time they saw it, for some the 1970s in London where it had a run at the Duke of York’s.
Taking it’s title from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra and the line, “My salad days. When I was green in judgement, cold in blood’, you could say this is misleadingly deep for a work that is more a tribute to panto and music halls than The Bard. Devised by Slade and Reynolds in just three weeks, they were amazed by its enduring popularity.
When Salad Days first opened at Bristol Old Vic in 1954 the first night audience gave the show over 20 curtain calls, and while critics were not as keen, the plot, featuring catchy, light-hearted tunes, a magic piano, Cleopatra and an alien arriving on a ‘saucy spaceship’ satisfied the youthful generation’s desire to banish memories of wartime and celebrate a new and exciting era.
It has been rumoured that it’s The Queen’s favourite musical and when Cameron Mackintosh was taken to see it as a seven-year-old it made an indelible impression, “This was a wonderful, whimsical fantasy. The fact that a magical piano could make people sing and dance – that awakened something inside me.”
‘We Said We Wouldn’t Look Back’ is the first such number, sung by sweethearts Jane (Lowri Hamen) and Timothy (Laurie Denman) as they graduate from university one sunny summer and embark on a future they are determined won’t be of their parents choosing. Jane’s parents have several wealthy suitors lined up for her, while Tim’s parents Mr (Karl Moffatt) and Mrs Dawes (Dannie Ganden) and Aunt Prue (Sophie Millett) break into ‘Find Yourself Something to Do’ over breakfast.
That’s where the tramp (Tom Self), with his rather special piano, comes in. When Jane and Tim meet in a park they chance to find a busker who offers them a good salary to look after the instrument – one of many unlikely scenarios. Of course the pair decide they have enough money to marry and make a living, not to mention the fact that the piano has the ability to make people break into song dance in the most ridiculous way, including a tennis player, bishop (James Gulliford) and policeman (Tom Nonman).
‘Oh Look at Me, I’m Dancing!’ is sung with great enthusiasm by Jane and Tim, while Joanne McShane’s choreography is brilliantly funny. When along pops another tramp, a mute called Troppo (Jacob Seickell) whom the couple entrust with looking after the piano at night, this further shows off the skill of the choreographer, even if you’re not quite sure why a mute has been thrown into the haphazard plot. It’s fair to say that Salad Days is not like any other musical I have ever seen, but I couldn’t help but giggle or tap my foot along. It’s a little slice of musical theatre history.
Salad Days at Theatre Royal Bath until 16th September 2017. For more information and tickets please visit the website.