SALAD DAYS at Bath Theatre Royal

The fantastical, whimsical device of a magical piano that makes all who hear it start to dance has no small element of a fairy story, but without the darker tones of, say, Hans Anderson’s, The Red Shoes. Today we can only marvel at the success such a piece of silliness had on its first outing in the early 1950’s.  In what was still a fairly socially conservative Britain the idea of a piano that forced you to have fun despite the crushing conventions of the day was key to the release of a dose of fresh air and burgeoning optimism which is summed up in one of the show’s most popular numbers, We Said We Wouldn’t Look Back.

In a bid to release themselves from the dead hand of parental guidance and obligation concerning their respective marital and occupational futures, two university graduates, Jane and Timothy (Lowri Hamer and Laurie Denman), sign up to a marriage of convenience with the understanding that the arrangement could well lead to a union of love.  No sooner have they tied the knot than a mysterious, tramp-like man offers them a well-paid job looking after a piano for a month.  If there was any symbolic meaning to the piano in the writers, Dorothy Reynolds and Julian Slade’s minds there are no hints and the show just launches into a series of jolly numbers which are performed by a procession of unlikely folk including a bishop, some dancing policemen (who also engage in a bit of music hall patter), some city types, assorted passers-by and a Harpo Marx-like dumb character, Troppo (Jacob Seickell) who mimes his way through the fun.

Ms Hamer can sing and dance, which she does with notable charm whilst managing to get some hint of substance into a lightly drawn character; one moment as a submissively hands-behind-the-back, fifties girl, the next a harbinger of things to come (in the 60’s) with a determination to follow her own course and shake off the cloud of parental expectation.

The show, directed by Bryan Hodgeson, has more theatrical gush than subtlety with the cast giving pretty much every line ‘what for’. Mr Denman manages to marry ‘bashful’ and ‘over-eager puppy’ as harmonious character traits and dances with no lack of vim.  The whole cast perform with a goodly charge of brio which allows the plot to wend its way to the unsurprising, if somewhat bizarre, happy conclusion.   ★★★☆☆    Graham Wyles   13th September 2017