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The Theatreguide.London Review

Salad Days
Union Theatre   Summer 2017

Dorothy Reynolds and Julian Slade's 1954 musical (music by Slade, book and lyrics by both) is the living essence of light-weight, light-spirited, lightly entertaining tissue-paper theatre. 

It promises nothing more than a couple of hours' diversion and generally delivers, even in such an uneven hit-and-miss production as this. 

A young couple just down from university, too simple and innocent to realize they're in love, become temporary custodians of a magical piano, whose music forces all hearers into uncontrollable but joyous dancing. 

This leads the boy and girl, with the illogical logic of musicals, to encounters with stuffy parents, disapproving police, a Harpo-like mute, the Ministry Of Fun, an Egyptian-themed night club and a flying saucer (Don't ask). 

Young director Bryan Hodgson has assembled an attractive cast drawn largely from his fellow recent graduates of the Guildford School of Acting, and their youth, freshness, and high spirits are among the production's major assets.

Lowri Hamer and Laurie Denman make an attractive and likeable central couple, and the rest of the cast, most doubling and tripling roles as Everyone Else, are all fun to watch. 

Choreographer Joanne McShane has staged several inventive and witty dance sequences, especially those in which various passers-by find themselves moving in different styles that somehow jigsaw together beautifully. 

But (and you knew that was coming) director Hodgson and musical director Elliot Styche have encouraged or allowed their cast to sing too loudly for the echoing space they're in. 

Particularly in chorus numbers like The Things That Are Done By A Don, Reynolds and Slade's frequently witty lyrics are too often lost in a muddy cacophony.  Even Lowri Hamer is inclined to oversing her simple melodies, her vocal trills getting in the way of the words. 

The songs are never less than serviceable although, in keeping with the determined triviality of the show, you are not likely to remember any of them long after leaving the theatre. 

The recurring Oh Look At Me, I'm Dancing is bouncy, The Things That Are Done By A Don would be a delightful opening number if we could hear the words, and near the end there is a surprisingly touching song for the central couple's respective mothers, We Don't Understand Our Children. 

The almost randomly episodic structure of the plot allowed Reynolds and Slade to make frequent digressions into easy social satire a vain woman in a beauty parlour, a policeman who considers himself a dance historian, some secrecy-obsessed spies, a dress parade at a snooty couturier's, and the like and all of them fall flat here. 

(I grant that they are not particularly sharp or clever bits of satire, but I have seen them work in other productions.) 

Only the night club sequence really works on its own, thanks to some droll mugging by the dancers and a point-scoring take-off on a diva singer by Maeve Byrne. 

Always perky and bright when it's dancing, but too often leaden-footed when it isn't, this production doesn't get completely in the way of Salad Days's inherent charm. But it doesn't help it much either.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -   Salad Days - Union Theatre 2017


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