Salad Days review at the Union Theatre, London – ‘vibrant fringe revival’
There’s a giddy, quirky eccentricity to Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds’s 1954 throwback British musical, in which a magic piano drives people to dance unbidden in the park and a flying saucer, no less, is pressed into service to find the piano when it goes missing. No, you’re not meant to take any of this very seriously, and the great joy of Bryan Hodgson’s new production for the Union Theatre is that it doesn’t. But neither does it make the mistake of sending it up mercilessly. It plays the show with a beguiling sincerity and charm that allows its gloriously tuneful score to soar above the silly plot that drives it.
If its portrait of British society, with posh parents seeking to arrange good marriages and jobs with well-placed relatives for their newly graduated children, harks to another class and age – and the all-white cast here prove it – it remains an effervescent period piece, like an undergraduate caper scored with echoes of Gilbert and Sullivan.
I’d have liked to have seen more diversity on stage (it’s hardly a realistic world being portrayed), but there are some fine voices on display, with Lowri Hamer bringing a radiant soprano to Jane and Laurie Denman a strong presence as the goofball Timothy, who become temporary custodians to Millie, a magic piano whom Tom Self’s tramp entrusts to their care.
A large company of 16, brightly costumed by Mike Lees against Catherine Morgan’s bunting of striped yellow flags, keeps up an unflagging pace as it executes Joanne McShane’s witty period choreography. It’s a show that famously inspired a seven-year-old Cameron Mackintosh to fall in love with the theatre, and this production made me realise why that might be.