Tag Archives: Bryan Hodgson

Salad Days – 3 Stars


Salad Days

Brighton Theatre Royal & Touring

Reviewed – 5th September 2018


“As absurd plots go, Salad Days’ story is hard to beat”


‘In 1954, the Old Vic’s artistic director Denis Carey gave Julian [Slade] and Dorothy [Reynolds] just one month to write a summer show – words, music, everything. They did it.’ So writes Adrian Slade in the programme notes for this production, and it is a helpful introduction – placing us firmly in the period, and providing a clue as to the origins of this utterly bonkers musical confection.

As absurd plots go, Salad Days’ story is hard to beat: a young couple find themselves the guardians of a magical piano which bewitches people into dancing in public; the piano goes missing and a flying saucer appears to help track it down. This is clearly not a musical that takes itself very seriously, and yet the audience requires a level of sincerity in the production, particularly in 2018, to keep the show from becoming a dusty and risible period piece. It is a hard balance to strike, and one which Regan de Wynter’s production – initially at the Union Theatre in London and now at Brighton’s Theatre Royal ahead of a UK tour – generally maintains. For the most part, the show zips along with a great deal of effervescence and charm, and laughs are in plentiful supply. The comedy works best however, when it bubbles up from the pure silliness of the plot, or springs from the deft handling of physical business – special mention here to the marvellous hairdressers scene, expertly played by Wendi Peters. The scenes which rely heavily on running gags are less successful; these are the awkward interludes in which the show’s 64 years weigh heavily.

The songs, although fun, lack the biting wit of Cole Porter or the inventive musicality of Arthur Sullivan, and the choreography is lively but unremarkable. The lighting design is similarly serviceable, and the production design lacks coherence, particularly in terms of period setting – some costumes clearly coming from the fifties, but others from the twenties and thirties. The success of this production is thus almost wholly down to its committed and energetic cast, which had to work doubly hard last night to combat some very obvious technical issues with sound quality. (As a side note, this reviewer is not convinced by the need to mike up performers in a space the size of the Theatre Royal. All the singers are clearly capable of filling the theatre vocally, unaided). Despite these setbacks, the showstoppers shine through, and there are some lovely lyrical moments too. Maeve Byrne lights up the stage with Asphynxia’s fabulous nightclub pastiche ‘Sand in my Eyes’, and Lewis McBean’s warm tenor is a delight throughout. Also noteworthy are the splendid comic characterisation and sparkling vocal quality of Francesca Pim, and the physical precision and geniality that Callum Evans brings to the mute Troppo.

Salad Days is pure nostalgia – theatrical candyfloss if you will – and Brighton’s beautiful regency Theatre Royal provides the perfect setting to jump on the carousel and indulge in a sugary treat.


Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Scott Rylander



Salad Days

Brighton Theatre Royal until 8th September then touring UK



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Twang!! – 4 Stars



Union Theatre

Reviewed – 13th April 2018


“strong, lively and highly entertaining performances”


Everyone has grown up with the story of Robin Hood and his merry men. He takes from the rich and gives to the poor. He heroically fights, shoots arrows, and can parry with his sword like a pro. Or so we have always thought … In the current adaptation of Lionel Bart’s 1965 spoof musical Twang!! Robin Hood has been reduced to nothing more than a weak and feeble country bumpkin, due to having – as the title suggests – ‘lost his twang’. The show notoriously was a flop when it first came to the West End fifty years ago, however, it has recently been spruced up and reworked by Julian Woolford, giving it a more modern twist and playing on its pantomime-like shenanigans and musical theatre pizzazz with tongue firmly placed in cheek. A complete hoot, this is a riotously camp romp in the woods (or Sherwood forest to be precise), and they know it! Don’t be expecting the likes of a brooding Kevin Costner, think more Bob Fosse, with plenty of men in tights and slapping of thighs.

After rescuing runaway, Much (Joe Rose), from the clutches of the dastardly Sheriff (Christopher Hewitt), Robin Hood (Peter Noden) welcomes him to Nottinghamshire and into his band of merry men. But something is strange about this place. Life in this county is all a song and dance. Literally. Everything is better as a musical, so the merry men tell, or rather, perform with a series of pirouettes, high kicks and jazz hands, for Much. They are more chorus boys than brutish bandits. Things are looking a sorry state for their leader of the pack. Robin has lost his ‘twang’ and can’t be the hero he used to be. Can the beauty and charm of Maid Marion (Kweeva Garvey) help? Held captive by the villainous Prince John (Lewis McBean), can Robin find his courage again to rescue Marion? With the help of his boys, and Marion’s feisty waiting ladies, it’s certain that good will win out.

If someone who cannot stand musicals described why, this production of Twang!! probably includes each and every one of those reasons. It’s cheesy, silly, brash and bursts into song for no reason. But where this new adaptation is clever, is that it embraces it. They know they are a musical cliché, and with the clever one-liners and musical segments that reference well-known Broadway shows, there are plenty of in-jokes for the theatre luvvies in the audience. Not that this alienates the rest, mind you. It is still clear that they are making fun of the genre on a very wide, and obvious, level. Yes, the overall story is rather slight and none of the songs are memorable, however, the strong, lively and highly entertaining performances from most of the cast makes up for it. You have to get into the spirit of proceedings, but once you do, it’s a gay old time.


Reviewed by Phoebe Cole

Photography by Anton Belmonté



Union Theatre until 5th May



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