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
Brighton Theatre Royal until 8th September then touring UK