We said we wouldn’t look back, as the song goes, but we have no choice in the matter with Salad Days, the charmingly fey and silly 1954 musical by Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds that ran for over five years in the West End but flopped dismally on its last outing there in 1997.
Bill Bankes-Jones’ revival for the little opera company Tete a Tete transforms the larger Riverside studio into a London park with grassy bleachers and tables for customers sipping Pimms and munching cucumber sandwiches. You’re given a graduation scroll by a scarlet-gowned don as you take your seat, or your green patch.
For this is the post-graduate, post-war, coming-out-of austerity nostalgia jag in which Timothy and Jane, both lumbered with parental expectations (“Find yourself something to do, dear”), prolong life in an escapist cocoon by taking charge of a magic piano that makes everyone dance.
The songs are lovely, especially Jane’s ballads which are sweetly discharged by Michelle Francis in a floral frock, and the ensemble items – “We’re Looking for a Piano” and “Oh, Look at Me” – spiritedly choreographed by Quinny Sacks; she even makes the Act One finale, “Out of Breath,” look like a dance marathon, with an exhausted conga line splitting in two.
But the pace overall is too slow, Anthony Ingle’s musical direction too flaccid (you’d hardly notice there were two pianos) and the revue sketches in a beauty parlour, night club and dress shop crying out to be cut; the actors are fine in them, but the exact period idiom is irretrievable.
The cast is a good mix of musical theatre troupers and light opera names, with G&S patter specialist Richard Suart adding a touch of real class, while Sam Harrison’s Timothy is a lithe and likeable chinless wonder.
Sophie-Louise Dann is in good voice and versatility mode, Ellie Robertson shines as the coyly flirtatious Fiona, Graham Howes and Andrew Ahern form a nifty dance partnership as the policemen, and Lee Boggess is a sweet-natured Harpo-type mime. I love this show, and Tete a Tete handle it with affection but perhaps not enough creative rigour.