People of a certain generation sometimes refer to their ‘salad days’ – you know, those youthful and carefree days when one’s enthusiastic innocence and inexperience seemed to be enough to get by in life. Salad Days is, of course, also the title of Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds’ 1954 musical, a quaint and quintessentially English show that was written as a summer show for the Bristol Old Vic and then transferred to the West End for a staggeringly successful run that saw it become the longest running musical of its day. The 1994 fortieth anniversary studio production was broadcast on Radio 2 (in the days when they broadcast full-scale versions of musicals on a Saturday night!), and starring Simon Green and Janie Dee (both of whom I have already seen strutting their stuff in other stage productions this year).


Salad Days has been enjoying a small scale, London revival for the past few years, thanks to a new production by Tête à Tête at the Riverside Studios. This is a company well known for their theatrical flair who usually specialise in intimate opera productions, but director Bill Bankes-Jones’ production of Salad Days has become one of their most successful shows, and is currently enjoying its third run at the venue since 2009 (running until 2 March 2013). Although it is billed as the perfect antidote to these current harsh times, and there is much to admire in this production, Salad Days proves to be one of those musicals that is very much of its day. This is an authentic 1954 ‘original instrument’ production, played without amplification and it will no doubt be best enjoyed by older theatregoers who either saw it the first time round and want to relive it again, or wish to reminisce about their long ago youth, as well as those musical theatre enthusiasts who want to add another tick to their list of shows.

On entering Riverside Studios, the ushers are dressed in graduate gowns, selling small and quaint 1950s style programmes, and audience members are each given a certificate declaring honours in theatregoing, musical appreciation and ‘suspension of disbelief’. The cast show the audience to their seats and remain in character throughout, asking some rather bemused people what degrees they had attained. The auditorium is decked out as Hyde Park with green flooring to the main stage area, and traverse seating arranged either side, with some café tables at the front. Anthony Ingle’s four piece band are positioned at one end of the stage, including two pianos, bass and percussion. The cast bring various items of scenery on and off stage from all corners and down the aisle on one side, most playing various characters in different colourful outfits (Tim Meacock) throughout.    

At the heart of Salad Days is the enchanting, if sometimes ridiculous, tale of Timothy and Jane, two friends who leave university, decide to get married and later fall in love. A chance meeting with a tramp sees them looking after his street piano which, when played, gives everyone around an unstoppable urge to dance – you were warned about the need for the ‘suspension of disbelief’ in this show! Katie Moore’s Jane is a charming and confident young lady, avoiding the obvious temptation here to be too sweet and wet. Her friend Fiona (Ellie Robertson) is another young lady with verve too. Alas, the younger men fare less well as the required posh accents add an air of campery to their characters – not forgetting that this is an age where the oft-used word ‘gay’ simply meant merry and happy. Both Leo Miles’ Timothy and Luke Alexander’s Nigel need to be more assertive in their quest, but it’s hard to play it straight in these circumstances, if you pardon the pun.

One of the charms of Salad Days is in the cacophony of other characters, of whom there were some standouts. Kathryn Martin excelled as the nightclub singer Asphynxia, using authentic 1950s amplification for her sultry solo number ‘Sand In My Eyes’. Earlier, she had appeared as Timothy’s mother and then a nanny, even cajoling yours truly into some gentle audience participation towards the end of Act One in the company number ‘Look At Me I’m Dancing’! West End regulars Mark Inscoe and Tony Timberlake were male standouts, Inscoe even giving Timothy’s Uncle Zed a good shot during the second half when a flying saucer is introduced into the plot (time for that ‘suspension of disbelief’ again – the story drags here a little, even though the cast are obviously giving it all they’ve got). The traverse seating occasionally causes rather a lot of neck swivelling across the wide rectangular space, with some views missed from sitting near the front, or some vocals slightly unclear when directed to the other side, although Bankes-Jones has ensured that this is avoided as much as possible in the staging.

Despite Salad Days inevitably coming across as a period piece that wouldn’t sustain a major revival today (it’s almost a more fully realised version of the ‘Lost Musicals’ that are presented at Sadler’s Wells), it does have lots of charm. The cast of this production succeed in connecting with the audience despite no amplification and bring a real sense of fun to Dorothy Reynolds’ witty lyrics. There lots of good comedy – an early scene set at the beautician’s was particularly well done – and Quinny Sacks’ choreography is also fun, especially the irresistible and wacky dance routines to the piano. Timing is also a strong feature of Tête à Tête’s production, both from the cast and from the various lighting effects (Mark Doubleday) and band interjections which are slickly done. The strongest element, however, is Julian Slade’s hummable and memorable tunes, with such numbers as ‘We Said We Wouldn’t Look Back’ and ‘We’re Looking For A Piano’ particular highlights, proving that this particular Salad hasn’t quite had its Day.