Lowri Hamer, Laurie Denman in Salad Days, Union Theatre. Photo: Scott Rylander
In these difficult times when the news seems bleaker every day, a light musical can be an attractive proposition for a summer evening; and they don’t come much lighter than Salad Days, the much-revived 1954 musical from Dorothy Reynolds and Julian Slade. Considering the show deals with such unlikely plot components as a magic piano and a flying saucer, it is surprising it has not sunk without trace, but the persistence of the tunes has ensured its survival.
It does require remarkable lightness of touch combined with absolute belief in the material, and this is provided in Bryan Hodgson’s deft and confident production for the Union Theatre, on a summery set from Catherine Morgan with yellow and white stripes everywhere and glorious 1950s costumes from Mike Lees – all knitwear, tweed and starched underskirts. The large cast of 15 combines young newcomers, many of them from Guildford School of Acting, with more experienced performers in some of the many character roles.
Keyboard player Tom Self occasionally enters the action as the owner of the magic piano, leaving other members of the cast to take over his duties in the band, while the rest of the cast dash on and off, many of them playing several parts. In the roles of the central duo, the appropriately hesitant if not always totally audible Laurie Denham gives a strong period performance and was well-matched by the impressive Lowri Hamer, a strong singer with the appropriate style for the score. Audibility was something of a problem at times for most of the cast, but this was mostly caused by the loud air conditioning: it was good to be in a cool auditorium but perhaps a quiet one would have been preferable.
As Troppo, the mute character who can be wincingly gauche, Jacob Seickell was something of a triumph, getting the audience on his side (and even sitting with them at one point), and managing to be winsome without being embarrassing. The imperious Darrie Gardner and the pained Sophie Millett portrayed a variety of older ladies, and both made the most of their late number together, and Tom Norman was an endearing PC Boot.
The caricatures became even broader with the men, Lewis McBean adding a modicum of subtlety (and a wonderful wig) to the campery of Ambrose and Karl Moffatt impressed with a varied range of characters, from a Whitehall mandarin to a flying saucer commander. Outdoing them all in volume, instant characterisation and watchability was the versatile Maeve Byrne, whether as a nightclub singer, an alien or a reluctant beauty salon worker.
Salad Days is silly, inconsequential and has no real depth – but the tunes are good, the cast are at the top of their game, the excellent choreography (Joanne Mcshane) is fun and it’s a very pleasant way to spend an evening at the comfortable and welcoming Union Theatre.
The cast of Salad Days, Union Theatre. Photo: Scott Rylander