The Riverside Studios has never been a favourite venue of mine. I tend to think of it as a drab place best suited to well-meaning 'intelligent' productions. Well, the production company Tete a Tete turned up the lights, pushed the seating back to the two long walls and offered very class-conscious seating (tables, chairs and Pimms for the upper classes, chairs for the middle classes and the floor for my seat) and then covered the walls in bright yellow and the floor with fake bright green grass - and it was spring with a sparkle in the air. That sparkle never left this totally charming and innovative revival.
Salad Days was born in 1954 as a summer romp for the Bristol Old Vic and transferred for a 2,283-performance London run. It's story of a well-to-do, but out of work couple just down from university who take on a magic piano, make people happy and of course, get married. There is no helicopter, simply a flying saucer and a set of successful establishment uncles (other than the one we do not mention). Told in an almost revue structure of set comic and charm episodes the piece has but one object - to delight.
The director, Bill Bankes-Jones, has remained true to the piece and has dressed it in glorious 1950s costumes with minimal sets (basically the grass) and the odd prop such as chairs, benches and Minnie, the piano that makes people dance. He has used the large playing area to the full with exuberant dances and glorious voices. But it is the seemingly simplicity of the staging and the performances that bring out the true spirit of the piece. Bankes-Jones had confidence in the show as written and his sharp wit has brought out the very best of it. His cast are as near-perfect as could be wished for and far more multi-talented than one usually expects from what is basically an opera company. Michelle Francis and Sam Harrison excel as Timothy and Jane and there was wonderful support from the likes of Sophie-Louise Dann, Claire Machin and Lee Boggess.
Mr Bankes-Jones in his programme The programme note mentions that the reason Salad Days was put on was because a sponsor fell out of funding for the company's planned opera production. As far as I'm concerned it was a stroke of luck and may its success ensure it is not the last time a nostalgic British musical is given his loving treatment.