SALAD Days, by Dorothy Reynolds and Julian Slade, was written for the Bristol Old Vic’s resident company in 1954, later transferring to London and running for what was then a record-breaking 2,283 performances.
More than 60 years later its appeal can hardly be said to have diminished. It certainly remains one of my favourite musicals; thank you Studio Theatre Company for bringing it back, with all its naivety and charm, so that we can enjoy it all over again.
The main strength of Camilla Burgess’ and Tamsin Jacson’s production is in the staging of the many musical ensemble numbers, both large and small. With a real sense of style and just enough choreography and imaginative business to keep us, the audience, visually entertained, the quality of the singing is never compromised and the all-important lyrics come through with clarity and precision. And from the word go we know these words are going to keep us chuckling merrily.
As the university academics sing in the opening chorus: “We may look dry and dusty, but under the gown you will find a clown who is game for anything lusty!” I fear education has become a lot duller these days.
In the leading roles of Jane and Timothy, Stephanie Potts and Terry D’Onofrio, who are both making their debut with Studio Theatre, make a delightful couple. Full of youthful optimism and wide-eyed innocence, their singing was absolutely lovely and their dancing pretty decent too. Stephanie Potts’ rendition of I Sit in the Sun in particular was quite enchanting while Terry D’Onofrio’s general boyishness and effortless harmony singing was spot on. Their duet together, We Said We Wouldn’t Look Back, was an early highlight of the evening.
Alas, it appears from the programme that D’Onofrio, a native of New York and clearly an experienced performer, is only here in the UK on a one year work assignment. Let’s hope that we get to see him again before he has to go back home.
As the second love-struck couple, Potts and D’Onofrio were ably supported by George Cotterill as Fiona and Teddy Woolgrove as Nigel, the former making the very most of her catchphrase: “This is, without exception, the happiest day I have ever had in the whole of my life.” Both are well-known to Studio Theatre audiences and brought considerable charm to the production, not least with their catchy rendition of It’s Easy to Sing a Simple Song.
The third pair of lovers, Rowena, the hapless shop assistant from Gusset Creations, and PC Boot were beautifully played by Tamsin Jacson and John Jenner. Again, both familiar figures in Studio Theatre productions, they gave a couple of sparkling performances. I particularly enjoyed their early scene in the park together and the latter’s hilarious dance scene with the Inspector – one of the many roles expertly played by another Studio veteran, Brian Waddingham.
As the two mothers, Christina Reynolds (Timothy’s mother) and Jackie Pilkington (Lady Raeburn – Jane’s mother) clearly enjoyed the opportunity of playing their larger-than-life characters. Nevertheless, their Act II duet We Don’t Understand Our Children – a song that surely ought to be better known – was really quite poignant. In contrast, the beauty parlour scene early on in Act I was wonderfully funny, and possibly not too far from reality, the snobbish and utterly self-obsessed Lady Raeburn indulging in her various treatments whilst engaged in private conversations on the telephone as though the beauticians themselves were not there.
In the supporting roles, Fabia Alexander captured the stylised mannerisms of Troppo the Clown very nicely, while David Rhodes as the Nightclub Manager and Rowena Greenaway as the cabaret artist Asphynxia provided two of the evening’s many highlights with their respective songs Cleopatra and Sand in My Eyes which open Act II. Again, none of the all-important words were lost and the audience were able to enjoy Reynolds’ and Slade’s wonderful rhymes; Cleopatra, for example, who “… used to tease her / sugar-daddy Julius Caesar / by not allowing him to squeeze her / more than once or twice a day”.
Salad Days is, however, essentially an ensemble piece, and there is simply not the space to acknowledge everyone. Suffice to say all helped create that elusive feel good factor that was such a feature of the production, with, as is customary, most members of the cast taking on a variety of roles and throwing themselves into their various characters with evident enjoyment.
The music itself was in the very capable hands of Ute Schwarting. A talented pianist and natural accompanist, and these are not the same thing by any means, she supported the singers without drowning them and helped the whole production run smoothly. Visually, things worked well too. The costumes were very stylish (lots of spots for the ladies of course) and the frequent set changes were seamlessly managed. The cut-out London skyline and colourful back lighting looked quite beautiful, and this coupled with the well-chosen props were really all that was needed to make the production flow. All credit to designer Alistair Faulkner and stage manager Jill Redston in this respect.
Nevertheless, it was still a bit on the long side and could, I feel, have profitably lost 15 minutes or so. Maybe some of the dialogue could have been tightened up, and although it is probably as much a fault of the script as anything, when things become as bizarre as they do with flying saucers, spacemen and everything else, the show should surely have raced towards its conclusion. As it was, the last few scenes did seem to drag just a little.
But, with a talented group such as this and with songs such as Oh, Look at Me!, We’re Looking for a Piano and, my own particular favourite, We Said We Wouldn’t Look Back, Salad Days could hardly have failed to be the absolute joy it was. An enchanting, magical musical indeed. Catch it if you can between now and 28th May.