By Katrina Ffiske

For instant escapism, run to Salisbury Playhouse to see Salad Days, a wonderfully nostalgic, magical musical.

Bryan Hodgson’s production is almost perfect in every way. “I am thrilled to be able to stage Salad Days again this autumn,” Bryan said. “It serves as one of the greatest romps in musical theatre history, and really brings us a timeless sense of enjoyment and nonsense, which is always welcome in counteracting the sometimes overwhelming seriousness of today.” The set is simple, the lighting warm and sunny, the costumes are yellows, greens and classical 50s, and we are instantly dropped into a happy past.

Lead characters Timothy (Mark Anderson) and Jane (Jessica Croll) graduate from University. They are under pressure from their parents to find a job and marry. Timothy’s mother has lined up a series of influential uncles to assist him, Jane’s mother a list of suitable dull suitors. Wanting to escape their parents plans, they seek other avenues. Fortuitously,  they meet a tramp who loans them a piano, named Minnie, which has magical powers: when played, anyone listening cannot resist dancing.

The tramp pays Timothy £7 a week to look after the piano, the graduates marry and their lives take a toe-tapping turn. Wonderful choreography by Joanne McShane has the large cast dancing in the park, Policemen waltzing, vicars cavorting. The energy carries the audience along, humming familiar songs such as ‘We Said We Wouldn’t Look Back,’ and ‘Look At Me, I’m Dancing.’  

Wendi Peters, Lewis McBean, Valerie Cutko and Jon Osbaldeston in Salad Days.

There are many eccentric scenes. We are dropped into Timothy’s mother’s hairdressers where Wendi Peters, playing a ‘Hyacinth Bucket’ character, answers two telephones, managing to get the stylists caught up in wires as nails are painted, hair is sprayed.

A visit to capture an uncle on camera takes them to the club Cleopatra, where a hilarious Asphynxia, does a glittering cabaret act. Then there is the flying saucer scene in which an uncle arrives in his spaceship, they all sing infamous ‘The Saucers Song’ as they search London for the missing piano.

I know The Beatles were influenced by LSD when they wrote their lyrics. Salad Days is so wonderfully off-beat, I couldn’t help wondering what Slade and Reynolds were taking.

It was refreshing to have the musicians on stage: a bandstand at the back houses the piano, bass is played to the left, drums to the right. Dan Smith slickly plays the keys, conducts the band as well as playing the tramp. Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds wrote the play in 1954 when Slade was only 24, and Reynolds, also an actress, appeared in the first production. It was a roaring success, running for 2,283 performances. The Guide to Musical Theatre claims it has been playing somewhere in the world ever since.

Slade and Reynolds were obviously Shakespeare fans as the title Salad Days comes from a phrase in Anthony and Cleopatra. Cleopatra contemplates her youthful past and comments: ‘….My Salad Days, /When I was green in judgement…’. The term salad days now means enthusiasm, idealism and innocence – three words that sum up the musical.

The play, promoted by Wiltshire Creative, runs at The Playhouse, until October 27, and the tour continues.

Photos by Mark Senior.

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