FringeReview UK 2018
Regan de Wynter’s production of Dorothy Reynolds’ and Julian Slade’s Salad Days is directed by Bryan Hodgson and excellent choreography by Joanne McShane. Elliot Styche takes care of musical supervision and Dan Smith plays a piano in the bandstand, the only fixture by designer Mike Lees with a light-shifting backdrop, Tim Deiling’s lighting working mainly with it and Tony Gayle’s sound.
It might be green in judgment to mark how Dorothy Reynolds’ and Julian Slade’s Salad Days fares on its very first opening night, presaging a tour. On this evidence though insouciant innocence, conflation with magic pianos, flying saucers, hint of a helicopter long before Miss Saigon is both far back in 1954, and curiously prescient. Even that doesn’t matter. It’s the happiest post-war show, one of two British 1950s musicals to survive (the other being Sandy Wilson’s 1951 The Boyfriend) and float effortlessly as… did I say float? Come and see.
Regan de Wynter’s production is directed by dedicated Slade fan Bryan Hodgson and excellent choreography by Joanne McShane really spins out the gossamer plot to something heartfelt and joyous. Elliot Styche takes care of musical supervision and the Tramp Dan Smith (who? see below) plays a piano in the bandstand, the only fixture by designer Mike Lees with a light-shifting backdrop, Tim Deiling’s lighting working mainly with it. Sudden additions of family breakfasts, hair salons, open parkland (the yellow and green rayed flooring suitable throughout, and Tony Gayle’s sound works well save for the lead Tim where at the end he becomes far more audible, which his micing up had suffered the lack of; an adjustment’s easily made.
For pure silliness Broadway could never dream up anything like this. Two young graduates, Jessica Croll’s appealing, fresh Jane and Mark Anderson’s adroitly awkward Tim, after a choral send-off agree to meet to discuss how to avoids their pre-ordained fates, marriage with a list of eligibles and for Tim jobs with a set of uncles. So perhaps they can escape by marrying then falling in love after? It’s a plan.
For a long time the number of uncles isn’t known, and the two are bumped into by a tramp who asks them to look after his piano for £7 a week, quite a lot in those days, for a month. But when you paly the piano, everyone ash to get up and dance, and it’s soon bringing the country to a standstill. On the way they find an ideal guardian, the mute but wonderfully eloquent Troppo Callum Evans who dances his answers.
Added to which there’s the mother-said-eligible Nigel (James Gulliford, who pretends not to sing, and makes a believably appealing almost-rival to Tim), an earl or something. And disreputably there’s Jane’s best friend the loud Fiona – an excellent Francesca Pim fresh from Into the Woods. You can see who she might throw her stocking at.
And for Tim’s there a different list of possibilities, mainly harped on by his mother Valerie Cutho. Professions via his select uncles. First, the clammed-up Uncle Clam (Jon Osbaldeston, a voluble vignette) who’s Minister for Pleasure (Arts nowadays, truth being stranger) dedicated to stopping it but secretly in thrall to a night club dancer, Maeve Byrne’s slinky Cleopatra-like Asphynixia. Later on she’s Electrode, and you’ll have to guess where she comes from. Clue is she’s with the other Uncle, Zed (Jay Worthy) who’s a lot wackier… and whom we don’t meet for an age. And then another… well that would be telling.
Then there’s PC Boot (Nathan Elwick taking police haplessness to a new level of bendable knees and Russian dancing) and Megan Armstrong’s feisty, funny Liverpudlian fashjion-announcer Rowena. Then infinitely grander a couple of anxious mothers, one a hair monster. No this is only twice a week says Wendi Peters. She’s Jane’s mother, Lady Raeburn and Aunt Prue). Suffice it to say Peters who can steal a show or three excels even under a lavender hair dryer and two sets of telephones barking orders to lavender-dressed stylists and being generally adorable. Poor Ashlee Young’s Marguerite spends time being yelled at, along with Byrne
This stands or falls then by its songs rather than its hair. And there are a treasurable clutch, with several good ensemble pieces. After the overture and ‘Te THigns THatAre Done by a Don’ the Jane numbers start adding quality. We Said we Wouldn’t Look Back’ sing the couple in the aork, and its an appealing number, oe of the best-n=known. After the parental harrumphing of ‘Find Yourself Something To Do;’ – this before Look Back in Anger – we get the show-stopper from Jane ‘I Sit in the Sun’. This is the show’s stand-out, and is a little gem of British ennui, the happy sort. Croll sings with a slightly acidic edge, but this only emphasizes her youthful role and it’s bewitchingly sweet.
When that magic piano’s heeled on by the Tramp we get a series of good ensemble efforts too, ‘Oh Look at Me, I’m Dancing;, ‘Bishop’s dance’ and then a more cleverly characterised Uncle piece (with the put-upon Lewis McBean as Fosdyke the under-under-secretary)where Osbalderson first makes his darkly po-faced baritonal presence felt. If the company frantically caught up in ‘Out of Breath’ enjoy the interval, they’re back for th ensemble ‘Cleopatra’ an attractive sleaze-piece in a night-club (McBean now a photographer attempting to catch out Clam). ‘Sand in My Eyes’ is Byrne’s big number and she takes it as it were by the throat.
‘It’s easy to Sing’ where Gulliford’s Nigel gets his number is possibly the finest of the second half, an appealing, literally simple song memorable and sweet-natured. But the esneble ‘we’re Lookinf for a Piano’ is great fun, and again one of the warmest songs is Jane a the tramp alone where Croll sings ‘The time of My Life’ again a winner, similar to ‘I Sit in the Sun’/ ‘The Saucer Song’ is sheer madness, contrasted deftly with the two mothers Peters and Cutho’s duet, one of those masterly moments of contrast, slow melancholic, funny touching. Reprises of the ‘Oh Look’ and ‘We Said’ bring the show full circle.
To reveal the end would be so well… wacky. You’ll have to see this delightful confection. There’s little to choose between the excellent ensemble. Croll’s voice is wondrously young still, Anderson sounded great when we heard him properly, Peters, Pim, Armstrong, Osbaldeston were all sovereign, as was Byrne and indeed there wasn’t a weak link. I think evergreen in judgement. Don’t miss it.