Is the cold soggy greyness of January getting to you? Do you read the news and feel overwhelmed with pessimism and dread? Are you just down in the dumps generally? Well, fear not! I have a cure for you! And you don't need to go to the ends of the earth either - only as far as Hammersmith.
Salad Days is a gloriously eccentric 1954 musical, with music by Julian Slade, and lyrics by Dorothy Reynolds and Julian Slade. The plot initially concerns a pair of young graduates, Jane and Timothy, meeting in a park and sharing their reluctance to embark on their futures according to their parents' designs, but rapidly starts flying off into fancy with the arrival of a mysterious tramp and a magical piano that causes anyone who hears it to start dancing. It gets odder.
Such a show almost has no right to work as well as it does, but it really is a lovely piece. The music is straight-forward and unpretentious, but also melodious and catchy as all hell. The lyrics veer from simple truths to Coward-esque wit, and the book is just so gently charming and funny that you can't help but simply accept without question everything that happens. There's plenty of intelligence and satire to be found, but the overwhelming feeling of the piece is one of blissful sunny innocence.
When I saw the show, Sam Harrison was unfortunately indisposed, leaving Andrew Ahern to step into the shoes of lead role Timothy, which he did with the utmost aplomb. Awkward and charming in the right measures, he performed so well with Katie Moore's radiant and vivacious Jane that you would never have been able to tell he was the understudy. But it's rather unfair to single out performers; with all other cast members playing between three and seven roles each, the entire ensemble should be praised to the heavens for their wonderful energy, talent, and ability to present such a wide array of different characters. They are all particularly impressive for their skill in filling the space of Studio 2 with the raw power of their vocals alone, with nary a microphone to be seen (apart from one, during one song, and Kathryn Martin had already amply proved by that point that she could have merrily done without!). It's such a wonderful idea; instead of chorus numbers blending together into one homogenous sound, you are able to hear and pick out individual voices, all of which are lovely. The choreography, appropriately for a show which features so much dancing as part of the plot, is fantastic to watch and delightfully performed. Choreographers Quinny Sacks and Lee Boggess are to be highly commended for so precisely managing to express the sheer joy of the show in movement.
I really can't recommend this show highly enough. If you're looking for a funny, sunny experience and don't mind seeing a show that will have you grinning from ear to ear from start to finish, you simply MUST get down to the Riverside Studios before the 6th of February.
Thought! The title "Salad Days" comes from Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra: "My salad days, When I was green in judgment, cold in blood, To say as I said then!". Salad Days features a themed nightclub called the Cleopatra Club. Coincidence? I think not!
Warning! It's such a fabulously family-friendly show that you should stick to evening performances if the idea of sharing audience space with very young children is off-putting to you. NO, REALLY.
Date seen: 16th January 2011