Sunday, 20 August 2017

REVIEW: Salad Days at the Union Theatre

The atmosphere of The Union Theatre is lovely. Set on the stone wall of the union as the backdrop, welcoming the audience is a piano playing tramp (Tom Self) with a small drum kit being played and Double Bass being plucked, playing light and spirited music. The floor is covered in a fake grassy turf and some audience members are sitting on cushions on the floor for a more immersive experience. How light spirited it all looks with all audience members settle in for Salad Days we’re ready for the light hearted frivolity. 

Written by Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds this classic musical is based around the conundrum of what to do after you graduate from school especially when you have parental pressures and societal expectations thrust upon you. 

The tale revolves around Tim and Jane - two upperclass youngsters who finish school and don’t really know what to do with themselves. Tim’s family is nagging at him to get a job with one of his uncles (he has four and one they don’t talk about) and Jane who’s Mother wants her to marry someone rich and be taken care of - Ah the good ol’ days. They come across a tramp who pays them to look after a magical piano which, when plays, enchants people and they can’t stop dancing; until the second act, when they lose it. Then find it with the help of an alien and an uncle (Tim’s uncles make appearances through the show) - Strange premise but I suppose a deus ex machina is a deus ex machina no matter how silly it sounds. 

Leading this ridiculously talented cast is Lowri Hamer (Jane) and Laurie Denman (Tim) who are making their West End Debut from GSA. Their chemistry on stage is electric. Whether they are together on stage or alone their presence is undeniable. Lowri’s light hearted interpretation is a sheer delight to watch; captivating and moving. Her voice is simply beautiful and really compliments Laurie’s high tenor voice. Listening to them duet is like honey on warm toast. Laurie is the trope of a leading man. His voice is pure and strong, his dancing is light and magical a true triple threat and he’s not the only one. 

Musicals from this era are quite demanding and the whole cast ‘do it all’, as it were; singing, dancing and acting. Tom Self plays the Tramp going from on stage character to musical director and is really great to watch. The vocal performance of the night really goes to Maeve Byrne whose voice makes easy work of the Union Theatre’s space. Another performance that was unmissable was Stephen Patrick who pulls focus (in a good way). There are just too many performances which are utterly fantastic in this. Each character was deeply developed. Each song sang wonderfully. The only problem I had was the fact there were no microphones used and some words were lost in the dialogue and songs. Although this is only something small it really had an effect on the experience. 

Watching Salad Days has made me really think about the stories being told on
stage at the moment; from plays and musicals about Brexit and Trump’s America, to news on our televisions about terror attacks: is Salad Days something we need on the stage? It’s not politically poignant and it’s not contextual to life pressures now but I have to say, with a loud booming voice ‘YES IT IS!’. For a couple of hours it will transport the audience away from all the doom and gloom we face day to day and director Bryan Hodgson does a wonderful job with it. 

Go and see Salad Days for a touch of ol’ fashioned musical theatre glamour and joy. It runs until the 9th of September and should not be missed. 

Review by James-Lee Campbell 

Rating: ★★★★★
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