Musical: Salad Days Vaudeville, London

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The Independent Culture
In 1956, two years after love-struck Timothy and Jane began trilling "We Said We Wouldn't Look Back" in Salad Days, John Osborne rather famously did. The relief on the faces of the audience at the first night of this revival clearly indicated he shouldn't have bothered. If that young man hadn't been so damnably angry, theatre could have retained its natural shape - the upper classes go to a play to watch the upper classes at play. A delightful diversion before dinner.

There's certainly nothing too meaty in Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds's featherweight confection. Indeed, it should come with a warning: "This play contains scenes and language that could not possibly give offence." Which is, of course, the whole point. Two bright young things leave the Varsity, declare their love, consider their future and happen upon a tramp and a silent clown who pay them pounds 7 a week to look after a magic piano that makes everyone dance and all before you've barely had a chance to open your box of chocolates.

The improbably slender story is merely an excuse upon which to hang a series of light, jolly songs, many of which come as a blessed relief from some of the more portentous nonsense being pedalled around town. Sneer if you will, but Slade's delightful melodies and gleeful lyrics nestling cosily between Gilbert and Sullivan and Ivor Novello, rescored for two pianos, bass and drums, kept the show running for a record-breaking five- and-a-half years.

The current production is likely to fare less well. It's two young leads are winningly charming. Simon Connolly, all Fairisle short-sleeved sweater and flannels and Nicola Fulljames, positively gleaming in daffodil yellow with white Alice band, shoes and gloves against Patrick Connellan's Magritte- like sky, have an innocence and spring freshness. But too many elements of the revival are all-too knowing.

Cabaret artistes Kit and the Widow have been drafted in to pep up the piece but while Richard Sissons is a model of simplicity as the white- faced mime, Kit Hesketh-Harvey wants to give Alec Guinness in Kind Hearts and Coronets a run for his money by popping up in eight different roles. His repertoire includes Alastair Sim in drag and a leery Terry-Thomas with Leslie Phillips's vowels but going at the comedy like a bull at a gate only succeeds in putting one in mind of the fate of the national herd.

Most of the dialogue scenes play like tired 1950s intimate review sketches, and director Ned Sherrin can't decide how straight to play them.

The show is at its best when he goes for truth as when Elizabeth Counsell and Gay Soper sing "We Don't Understand Our Children". Elsewhere, Sherrin encourages arch-winks and mugging to the audience, which suggests a worrying lack of confidence in the material. Those anxious to revive courtship memories will flood the matinees. Whether anyone else will want to see it is doubtful.

To 27 July (0171-836 9987)

DAVID BENEDICT

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