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Salad Days – Riverside Studios, London

Writers: Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds

Music: Julian Slade

Director: Bill Bankes-Jones

Reviewer: Lauren Kilgannon

[rating:5]

‘Who’d have thought I’d behave in this way, it isn’t a thing I do every day’ but I defy anyone not to get swept away in the musical hysteria of Tete a Tete’s reinvigorated version of this frightfully posh 50’s show stopper, complete with an operatic cast who are simply wonderful, darling.

Set in 50’s London, Salad Days follows Jane and Timothy through a month of summer, following their graduation from university. Timothy is under pressure from his parents to find a job, with the help of one of an array of very accomplished uncles, while Jane is to find a suitable rich husband. Together they hatch a plan to fulfil their parents wishes (by marrying each other) and finding Timothy a job. Cue a meandering tramp who pays them to take care of Minnie, the magic piano which makes people dance, and follow them on a journey which breaks the boundaries of absurdity, as they discover the world, guard Minnie, attempt to appease their troublesome parents and fall in love.

Salad Days is a fully immersive and completely contained experience, with the cast lighting the air with their voices and the 4 piece band, visible to the audience, and as much a part of the action as the characters. The direct engagement with the audience begins on arrival. As soon as we walk in, we are handed a scroll and congratulated on our graduation before being guided to our seats by students and dons. The theatre set up in traverse, with the audience on either side of the stage, adds to the music hall experience and the all encompassing effect of the production, and sense of inclusion. Whether it’s something ‘you’re accustomed to do’ or not, you’ll be ‘tapping your feet, to the beat’ and joining the cast forimpromptudancing and singing, swept away in the musical madness.

Salad Days is musical theatre at its very best. The production is air tight with foolproof timing; every note is hit, every joke landed and every step perfectly executed. The 50’s costume design could give Grease a run for its money, with nipped waists and full skirts and a few special editions from ‘Gusset Creations’. Quinney Sacks’ choreography is exquisite as the cast move ‘forwards, and backwards, sideways and upwards, spinning like a top,’ taking care to include the audience on both sides. The Pinocchio-like dancing, as the cast are forced to dance to Minnie’s music like puppets through their fatigue, is especially brilliant.

The comedy comes thick and fast through mime, slapstick, the lyrics, the cast’s facial expressions and the utter farce of the plot. Everything amplified by the larger than life characters in a typical Music Hall style. In many ways, the scenes become a series of comedy sketches, like a 1950’s musical Harry Enfield, all individually sound and contained. Some particular favourites include: the beautician’s parlour as Lady Raeburn is primped and preened with an assortment of products; Timothy meeting his uncle Clam, where we learn the painfully comprehensive list of things a diplomat can neither do nor say, “it’s Hush Hush” and PC Boot’s conversations with the dancing sergeant. To add to variety of hilarious characters the small walk on parts provide additional comedy, the baby with a dancing foot, the gardeners and butterfly catcher, all add to the dancing delirium.

Aside from the angelic voices and stage presence of the leads, Leo Miles (Timothy) and Katie Moore (Jane), Kathryn Martin and Mark Inscoe deserve a special mention. Kathryn’s matronly, Heloise, and jaw-dropping, sex siren meets pub landlady, Asphynxia are genius. Like a sultry Edwina from Ab Fab, Asphynxia mixes dulcet tones with motor boating the clientele, Egyptian dancing and some provocative egg and chip dipping. Mark Inscoe shines as both the Tommy Cooper, fez hat styled, Cleopatra’s manager and Uncle Clam, his delivery creasing the audience in uncontrollable laughter.

Bursting with warmth and brought to you with smiles so wide they could be manic, Tete a Tete’s production of Salad Days cannot fail to impress. Rip roaringly funny, with simple catchy melodies, exceptional voices and muscial accompaniment, even virgin music hallers will be toe tapping and singing along, long after curtain close.

Runs until 2nd March 2013

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