Review: Salad Days, Union Theatre

“I’m gay and I’m breathless and I’m jubilant and I’m dancing”

As fizzy as a sherbet dip, as baffling as the rules of cricket, as delightful as the finest afternoon tea, Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds’ Salad Days is quite possibly the best classic British musical you haven’t heard of. I only came across it for the first time myself with Tête à Tête’s superlative production at the old Riverside Studios in 2010 but instantly tumbled for its many charms and when the show came back in 2012, so I giddily went back. Now it is the turn of the Union Theatre to revive the musical and hopefully win over some new converts.

And it well could do so, given how successful Bryan Hodgson’s production is here. Much of its beauty comes from the thoroughness of his vision, the detail and thought that has gone into its every aspect. Creatively, Catherine Morgan’s design wisely maximises space, the better to let Joanne McShane’s gorgeous choreography with its cherry-picking of early twentieth century dance influences let rip. And placing the band at the rear addresses a good deal of the sound issues that affected The Hired Man, as well as providing a nifty solution to getting into outer space.

Yes, space. Where else would a story about a pair of earnest Cambridge graduates who are charged with looking after a magic piano end up? It’s undoubtedly a daft story but one with real heart and joy to it as well. Hodgson gets the tone just right by playing with a straight bat, and then loading in a picnic hamper-ful of clever touches and wryly observed details. Getting a push on the swings off the policeman, the thoroughly unwilling cabaret dancer (a scene-stealingly good debut from Emma Lloyd), the number of cast members who can play the piano – the love and attention being brought to bear is clear to see.

An impressive pair of debuts lead the cast as Jane and Timothy. Lowri Hamer makes the most of the kind of soprano part that just doesn’t get written these days with her assured upper register and Laurie Denman’s light tenor is sweetly appealing, the pair combining well to capture the unflagging optimism of the piece. And in a strong ensemble, I very much enjoyed Tom Norman’s cheery PC Boot and Francesca Pim’s vivacious Fiona, determined to win over James Gulliford’s thoroughly decent Nigel. And Tom Self’s piano-playing tramp. And Maeve Byrne’s perfectly judge lounge singer. Heck, I loved them all, it’s just the kind of good-natured, smile-inducing show to brighten up dark times.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Scott Rylander
Booking until 9th September

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