I have to admit a fairly strong affection for the musical Salad Days, as I appeared in two different productions of it in my late teens and early twenties, both times in the role of the mute Troppo.
I remember both productions as being particularly joyous, and therefore my love of the piece is tinged with nostalgia. I don’t remember either production I was in, though, being as wittily brilliant as Bill Bankes-Jones’s production for Tete a Tete, a company which usually “brings uplifting, surprising, daring and intimate opera productions of the highest quality to the widest possible public, developing both artists and the art-form itself,” to quote from their website. It was the withdrawal of major sponsorship funding for one of their operas, which led Bankes-Jones to embark on a pet project of his, that of doing a production of the Julian Slade/Dorothy Reynolds 1954 musical, Salad Days. It was a huge success when first produced in 2009, and this, I believe, is its third revival. Judging by the full house, I have no doubt this too will be a big success.
The musical has had many revivals, usually updated to the time of each production, but this one is firmly rooted in the 1950s, and it is definitely the right decision. Now distant enough, the 1950s have a period feel all their own. This is not, though, the 1950s of Grease, with motor cycles, leather jackets and slick backed hair. This is a firmly middle class 1950s Britain of cut glass English accents, of cockney reporters and workmen, a 50s when the cold war loomed and flying saucers were considered a possibility, all taking place in one of those typically mythical English summers, when the sun shines every day and it never rains.
Occasionally 1950s mores and manners are made fun of, but only ever in the most affectionate of ways. The story revolves around Timothy and Jane, both just down from Oxford, though, typically it is Timothy who must find a job, whilst Jane must find a husband. They manage to fulfil both requirements by marrying each other and taking on the guardianship of a magic piano that makes people dance. What struck me this time round is that the book seems to be a string of carefully crafted, and often hilarious sketches, loosely held together by the Jane and Timothy story. The young people must find their way in a world filled with a crazy older generation, and maybe that is not so very far from the truth for most younger people today.
Salad Days is a real ensemble piece, all the actors, apart from the delightfully youthful Leo Miles and Katie Moore, who play Timothy and Jane, taking on a variety of different roles. All are without exception excellent, so it seems invidious to single out anyone in particular, though I really can’t pass without mentioning Tony Timberlake, hilarious as the Inspector and Ambrose, and Kathryn Martin, whose Asphnyxia was a masterpiece of comic timing. Also worth a mention is Luke Alexander who is making his professional debut in the roles of Fosdyke and Nigel, but really every single member of the cast is quite brilliant. So too is the swiftly moving production of Bill Bankes-Jones and the wittily brilliant choreography of Quinny Sacks. Played with the audience on two sides, Tim Meacock’s stage design is cleverly minimal, though there are plenty of New Look 1950s costumes to delight the eye.
No doubt some younger readers will find the whole thing impossibly twee, and it has to be said that the nostalgia it evokes is that of a certain generation, and no doubt a certain class, an impression confirmed by a quick glance round the auditorium last night. That said, even those who are allergic to musicals, would, I’m sure, find plenty to enjoy in the wonderfully well written, and acted, sketches. It certainly took me on a trip down memory lane and I found it an absolute delight.
Riverside Studios & Tête à Tête present
Riverside Studios, Crisp Road, London W6 9RL
20th December 2012 – 2nd March 2013