Review – Salad Days – Tête à Tête at Riverside Studios


“I’m going! I’m not going! I’m going! I’m not going!”

and so I dithered the last two weeks over seeing Salad Days at the Riverside Studios. It had completely flown under my radar for the first six weeks of its run – despite it being “one of the happiest and best-loved classic musicals ever” I’d never heard of it – and somehow Ian Foster’s strong recommendation (it even made his best of the year list) flew right by. Pathetically, it took a review in the Metro in January – more than a month after it opened – to draw my attention to this show. Peering at my paper in the gloom of a cold, dark, January morning, I saw the words: “Happy! Classic!” and the kicker … “Magic piano!” with a rave review attached. I read three sentences and folded it up; clearly, this was the musical I’d been waiting for and I didn’t want to ruin the fun by reading too much about it. In fact I’d done such a good job of completely NOT hearing about it I almost missed it entirely!

Then comes the boring part – after I picked a day, I couldn’t find a date, and then I couldn’t find tickets that were in my budget (currently topping out at about £15 a show). I hemmed and hawed and finally decided to save the money but then happened to ping a theater-loving friend to ask what he was doing on a Sunday afternoon – and he was off to see Salad Days! Well, clearly, it was Kismet (tee hee), so I just gave in and forked over for full price tickets and ran off to Hammersmith with a fire under my tail (arriving with 10 minutes to spare).

As it turns out this was utterly worth my time though given the cheapish set it was pushing the limits of value-for-the-pound at £25. That aside, you could see where the money did go every time the cast sashayed on stage. My God, the dresses, I couldn’t remember how long it had been since I’d seen a fringe-esque show that actually got the era right! They looked very much like new build but the cut and styling were perfect and very nicely put me in a 1950s kind of mood.

This would, of course, be a light and fluffy kind of mood, with a heavy dose of Nancy Mitford in its depiction of the apparently useless upper classes. Somehow in a milieu in which freshly graduated men are admonished to “find yourself something to do” (though in no ways to work hard) while the women need to hurry up and get a rich husband, the concept of a magic piano that makes people dance and sing – in a park! – is bizarrely liberating. It should all just be too much – too stupid, too “nobody will fall for this any more” – but the whole thing was handled with a very light and richly comic touch that kept us all bubbling along in suspended disbelief rather like a room full of souffles. The comedy element about broke me during a scene in which our heroine’s mother is getting “done” at a salon and takes a phone call. She’s massaged, dried, made up, and manicured, all while carrying on the most ridiculous conversation, her voice vibrating, warbling, and modulating as she’s squeezed, stretched, and pummelled by the staff – and as a result of the clever staging and “let’s push the volume to eleven” upstaging by the supporting cast, I was in stitches. Was the point of this scene to reveal great secrets about the character, or perhaps to morally edify the audience? No, its goal was to make us laugh, and it was very successful at doing so.

Oh, the whole show is just too much the sort of thing “Man In Chair” from Drowsy Chaperone adores and exactly the kind of musical that’s utterly fallen out of style, and OH the dancing was fun (not brilliant but good to watch) and OH the songs and singing a pleasure (how have I never heard any of these tunes before?) and somehow the Deus Ex Machina they pulled out in the last scene was just camp enough to sell itself. Really, no one could possibly buy such a silly plot, but with the kind of joy Tête à Tête infused this production, it was just impossible to care about reality. I walked into Riverside Studios and spent two hours lost in musical theater land. And it was good.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday January 23rd, when Andrew Ahern nicely filled in in the role of Timothy. It continues through Sunday, February 8th, and I expect it should be selling out fairly regularly now – there were no more than ten seats left the day I went and given it’s five glasses rave by the Whingers I expect they should all be filled going forward. As a side notes, the bad puns in this review are wholly supported by the book, and if you don’t believe me, then lettuce alone.)


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2 Responses to “Review – Salad Days – Tête à Tête at Riverside Studios”

  1. A Clown Says:

    This makes me so heppy, so very very heppy. You’re right, it is just joyous fun and I am glad to be seeing it again next week. I’m hearing rumours of a two week extension but not everyone in the cast is available so to see the original group here, move quickly people!!

  2. Review – Love Story – Duchess Theatre « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews London Theater reviews by an American expat – on a budget « Review – Salad Days – Tête à Tête at Riverside Studios […]

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