Salad Days, Riverside Studios, London

Michael Coveney
Tuesday 28 December 2010 01:00 GMT

"We said we wouldn't look back" goes the wistful refrain but, like Lot's wife, we always do, and we don't even turn into a pillar of salt. Just jelly. The last West End revival of this delightful 1954 revue-cum-musical was a bit of a trial. Everyone tried too hard. But the little opera company Tête-à-Tête really does it delightfully well. "Oh, look at me, I'm dancing," cry the helpless Hyde Park habitués as they are spun into limb-wrangling postures of marionettish animation – brilliant choreography by Quinny Sacks – at the touch of an outdoor magic piano.

This expertly sung and vocally unamplified revival by director Bill Bankes-Jones lit up the November gloom last year and returns to defy the big freeze. It's all about summer and sunshine, and falling in love: Timothy and Jane are "coming down" from Oxford and must find themselves something to do in a world hedged with demands, mess-ups, "suitable" fiancés and limited prospects.

It all now seems charmingly poised at the new Elizabethan moment of emergence from post-War austerity and rationing into the great period of prosperity and global stability from which we are now in such rapid retreat. Hence the renewed poignancy of sheer escapism, old-fashioned revue sketches, unforced melody and carefreedancing.

The Oxford idyll was nothing to do with learning. The dons are dancing and ridiculous; as are the police and clergy, the foreign office (where the Cold War paranoia in "Hush-hush" has a nice WikiLeaks application) and the visiting uncle on a flying saucer.

Timothy and Jane take care of Minnie the piano (she's a relic of the Great Exhibition, with two lamps and five octaves) after meeting a kindly old tramp. The resultant terpsichorean epidemic is denounced by the Minister of Pastimes and Pleasure: tangos, congas, Charleston, even a hint of the dance marathons. With chases and other diversions, we arrive back ("ooh-ah, out of breath") in the park, looking for a pi-ah-no ("not any old pi-ah-no") and a resolution to move on when Minnie finds new owners.

The company plays it straight, with a fine regard for New Look costume (Tim Meacock designs) and correct, period enunciation. Sam Harrison repeats his irresistible, slightly sill-ass performance as Timothy, and Katie Moore makes a lovely professional debut as Jane.

To 6 February (020 8237 1111)

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