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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Salad Days
Riverside Studios   Winter 2012-2013

This holiday bonbon, written in 1954 by Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds, is charming, delightful, entertaining and just this side (or, if you're a holiday grouch, just that side) of unbearably twee. But if you set your whimsy capacity to maximum and just go along with its silliness, you can have a lot of fun. 

What passes for a plot in this delicate little musical has a boy and girl just down from Oxford coming into temporary possession of a magical piano (I warned you about whimsy) that makes everyone dance.

I suppose there's a metaphor in there someplace, about that one extra experience new grads need to kick them into adulthood, but mainly their adventures with the piano are just the excuse for a string of almost independent and self-contained comic sketches and some pleasant songs. 

The girl's worried mother allows for a satirical beauty salon scene, the involvement of the police leads to a cop who's a dance enthusiast, attempts to find the lad a real job produce a civil service song, and you could be excused for forgetting or not quite grasping why they find themselves in an Egyptian-themed night club at one point. And I haven't even mentioned the mute clown or the flying saucer. 

Anyway, you get the idea – a bunch of lightly comic scenes and lightly comic or romantic songs all somehow generated and somehow sorted out by a piano that makes everyone dance. You can see what I mean about whimsy. 

And most of it is nice, innocent – or, if you like to think of yourself as too sophisticated for this sort of thing, guilty – fun. For every sequence that doesn't work (the flying saucer, say, or the fashion show) there are two that do (the civil service song, the night club, passers-by unable to resist dancing), and you might as well give in and just let it wash over you. 

The songs are generally pleasant 50s-era pop. The one big number, 'Look At Me, I'm Dancing', is infectiously peppy and the diplomats' 'Hush Hush' Gilbert-and-Sullivan witty. (There is what I assume was a deliberate deja ecu feel to Julian Slade's music – the romantic 'We Said We Wouldn't Look Back' has a Richard Rodgers flavour and 'Sand In My Eyes' is openly a Cole Porter salute.) 

Though the original production ran in the West End for years, Salad Days is such a fragile and small-scale work that even this fringe revival sometimes seems overproduced and a bit lost in the Riverside's 200-seat studio. Director Bill Bankes-Jones has made every effort to keep it small, reducing the orchestra to two pianos, a bass and a drummer and allowing us the all-too-rare delight of hearing unamplified human voices. 

Leo Miles and Katie Moore are charming as the central couple, he playing the lad as just dim enough to be loveable and she making it clear that the girl has brains enough for both of them. 

The rest of the cast play four to seven roles each, Lee Boggess registering as the mute, Luke Alexander as an amiable friend and Kathryn Martin as an Egyptian chanteuse with an American accent (Don't ask.).

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Salad Days - Riverside Studios 2012  

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