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Salad Days

Dorothy Reynolds and Julian Slade (with music by the latter)
Regan De Wynter Williams
The Lowry, Salford

Salad Days Credit: Mark Senior
Salad Days Credit: Mark Senior
Salad Days Credit: Mark Senior

In the last decade, the ruling class have pretty much given up any pretence of being part of the wider community leaving the rest of us to cope with the effect of their selfishness. It seems a strange time to revive Salad Days, in which most of the characters come silver spoon in hand, but if anyone can make it work for a contemporary audience it has to be Regan De Wynter Williams whose reinventions of works by Gilbert and Sullivan have been stunning successes.

Salad Days is very much in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan—the script by Dorothy Reynolds and Julian Slade is gently satirical of authority figures and laden with puns and wordplay while Slade’s musical score is light and cheerful. A coherent plot and credible characters are, however, absent. After graduation, toffs Timothy (Mark Anderson) and Jane (Jessica Croll) are put under pressure by their families to, respectively, find work and marry. Not that these targets would require much effort to fulfil as influential relatives are on hand to offer a plum position and meetings with prospective suitors are arranged.

The couple decide to frustrate their parents by secretly marrying each other and accepting the first job offer that comes along which happens to be a chance to safeguard a piano. However, the instrument turns out to be magical and, when played, produces music no-one can resist, leading the Government to fear anarchy may break out as people cannot refrain from dancing. To make matters even less credible, a flying saucer appears.

Written in 1954, Salad Days has not aged well and all involved with the revival seem reluctant to make any radical changes. The show is preserved rather than re-interpreted so characters remain sketchy and unconvincing. It is very hard to care about their misadventures as you are aware that they will not have to cope with the consequences of their actions. The script reflects a time when comic characters could be indicated by a strong working class accent or be strident women obsessed with beauty parlours.

Director Bryan Hodgson stages the musical as if it is a fantasy; a make-believe environment in which the arrival of visitors from space is accepted as an everyday occurrence. There is a sense of blissful innocence as if the characters are clueless about the world beyond their narrow viewpoint. All of the scenes, whether in a nightclub or a spaceship, are staged in a public park in front of a bandstand, creating the impression the characters are children at play conjuring up scenes from their imaginations.

The cast play the script admirably straight without allowing themselves the indulgence of irony. The choreography by Joanne McShane is a bewildering mixture of styles but, more significantly, works as identifying people who are being forced to dance sometimes against their will. Steps are jerky and robotic with people trying to regain control of limbs that are moving without conscious control.

A stripped-down band of just musical director Dan Smith on piano with Andrew Richards on bass and Joe Pickering on drums play the score with beautiful simplicity, reflecting the theme of gentle regret for times gone by.

Yet despite the best efforts of all involved, the scenes in Salad Days extend well past the point where they cease to be amusing. While appreciating that the show is a classic, one has to wish that a way had been found of trimming some of the length or moving the plot along at a faster pace.

Reviewer: David Cunningham