A magic piano that, when played, makes everyone around dance uncontrollably. A tramp lends this piano to a couple of young lovers who are desperate to escape parental control. Cue a town caught in dancing fever with no-one knowing who’s behind the music. Throw in a series of uncles attempting to lead the way, a police hunt and much dancing, and you have Salad Days, returning after last year’s run at the Riverside Studios and presented by Tête à Tête. The piano in Salad Days makes you smile and tap your feet to the music; it’s so infectious that you can’t help but have your sprits lifted by this quirky musical.
Written in 1954 by Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds, and presented in a revival by opera company Tête à Tête, Salad Days is an upbeat and kooky musical showing the possibilities of dance in society. Young lovers Timothy (Leo Miles) and Jane (Katie Moore) pave the way for dancing fever as they take charge of the piano. After setting it up in parks they find joy in seeing passersby caught in a toe-tapping frenzy. You’d think that a musical that includes a flying saucer, a magic piano and a bemusing storyline wouldn’t quite make itself heard in our jukebox-led musical landscape, but the reality is quite different. Salad Days is a pure joy, uplifting and quirky, it lifts the heart and has you singing all the way home.
Leading the cast, Miles and Moore are exceptionally gentle and sweet, delivering musicality and rhythm that make your heart melt against their frightfully British accents and singing. Moore in particular has a voice that is rich and vibrant whilst Miles has legs that produce some spectacular high-kicks, but it is their child-like wonder that captures you the most. As for the rest of the cast, their energy and commitment are worth a tip of the hat. The company numbers are particularly strong especially in ‘Oh look at me, I’m dancing’ and ‘We’re looking for a piano’, which have you tapping and singing along.
It’s not often I feel compelled to praise the production team for their level of detail and creativity, but in Salad Days the production values are just as delightful as the cast themselves. There is exceptional detail from designer Tim Meacock, especially in the costume and some of the props used, whilst Camila Del Monte’s wig work is tremendous. But the real stars from the production team are director Bill Bankes-Jones and choreographer Quinny Sacks. Such teamwork leads to some brilliant direction/choreographic in numbers such as ‘Find yourself something to do’ and ‘Hush-Hush’ which make you laugh aloud repeatedly.
If there are faults to be found in Salad Days they are within the absurd use of the Riverside Studio without proper amplification for the cast. Their singing and voices completely fall flat against the large amounts of fabric around the traverse playing space. The songs are garbled within Meacock’s astroturf design, and considering the scale of the company it is a shame that the singing power feels considerably muted. It’s only during Kathryn Martin’s solo of ‘Sand in my eyes’ during the second act that we are given a workable microphone, which clearly gave a punch to the seductive song. This made me question why other microphones weren’t used throughout. Aside from the lack of amplification and a slightly slower first half, Salad Days is a pure joy, providing you have ears prepared to listen.
Salad Days is playing at Riverside Studios until 2 March 2013. For more information and tickets, see the Riverside Studios website.