2014 ‘FREE AS AIR’ A SELL OUT SUCCESS
Marking the 60th Anniversary of the opening of ‘Salad Days’, this special production at the Finborough fringe theatre in London of Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds’ second West End musical ‘Free As Air’ quickly broke its own records in October 2014. Compared to its original this was only a small production planned to run for just nine performances but all nine were sold out before the show even opened and then the extra two performances added also sold out. The audiences loved the show and almost all the critics were equally enthusiastic. It deserved a transfer but sadly that did not happen.
Stewart Nicholls’ ingenious adaptation and direction of a show that in1957/8 filled the Savoy Theatre stage for over a year brilliantly recaptured the magic of ‘Free As Air’, its fictitious Channel Island setting of Terhou and some of the best music Julian ever wrote. You can listen to some recordings from ‘Free As Air’ on the shows & audio page.
PRAISE FROM THE INTERNET CRITICS
“Discovering the unalloyed joy of Salad Days through Tete A Tete’s recent Riverside Studios production has to be one of my all-time favourite theatrical moments so the marking of its 60th Anniversary with a production of a rarely seen show by the same writers was right up my street. Free As Air hasn’t been seen professionally since 1974. Stewart Nicholls makes a compelling case for its revival….. Nicholls and musical director Ben Stock pitch it just right….the company sound simply glorious – Charlotte Baptie’s shimmering soprano, Daniel Cane as the smitten Albert, Ruth Betteridge as bicep feeling village maiden and Josh Little as the handsome tart who likes attention…….and much more about Stewart Nicholls’ inventive choreography and the outstanding songs and goings on of the fictional Channel Island of Terhou. THERE OUGHT TO BE CLOWNS
“Composer Julian Slade may be best known for Salad Days but the forgotten Free As Air is an equally infectious delight It has a quirky melodic charm and Stewart Nicholls has staged it with engaging sincerity. He fields a strong cast on this tiny stage to bring it to vigorous life.The show also chimes topically with the themes of an independence vote and Press intrusion as it portrays a fictitious Channel Island called Terhou that exists independently of the Mainland.”
THE STAGE.CO.UK Verdict: Rare run for a 1957 musical proves entertaining for audience and performers alike.
“Slade & Reynolds’ second West End show Free As Air is less well known (than Salad Days) today. A pity because, as Stewart Nicholls tightly directed and choreographed ensemble revival shows, not only does its well-made book have a timeless innocence and charm – give or take few twee moments – but Salad Days was no flash in the pan. Slade’s musical skills, as he continued to prove when he went to work on more dramatically ambitious projects such as Vanity Fair and Trelawny, is in the same tradition as those of Arthur Sullivan, Ivor Novello and Vivian Ellis. And both he and Dorothy Reynolds, if not quite in Noel Coward’s league, were also more than efficient lyricists.………and, yes, I found my eyes becoming moist. Such is the magic of Slade & Reynolds unashamedly old-fashioned yet still entertaining and endearing show.” RAYMOND LANGFORD JONES www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/reviews
“I knew virtually nothing about Free As Air before I arrived to see it. But I was in luck. My neighbour on the cramped banquette had been to see the original 1957 production and was able to give me the lowdown. In particular, he directed my attention to the comical lyrics and these did not disappoint. I smirked like an idiot throughout the two hour show, at lyrics that included “I want a man from the Mainland”, “Her Mummy doesn’t like me anymore”, as well as a reporter filing copy in song, and a musical inventory of items coming off the boat.
On the fictional channel island of Terhou a small community of locals are preparing for the annual Independence Day celebration. Into their midst lands a runaway heiress, whose arrival threatens their peaceful seclusion, but also sets in motion a series of romances. Absurd? Absolutely! The whole production is unashamedly and joyfully daft, without feeling the need to be arch or knowing.
Free As Air worked surprisingly well in the intimate space of the Finborough Theatre. No microphones were required and when the whole ensemble sang it was a very immersive experience. Charlotte Baptie, as the heiress, particularly surprised me, by pulling all sorts of comical expressions while remaining a picture of demure sophistication.
Along with some great comedy, the show also had wonderful songs; memorable tunes and those hilarious lyrics, performed by classically-trained and well-rehearsed singers. Choreography was of the kind that is obviously perfectly put together, but not meant to look too slick. There was also some fine physical comedy, but not least of the show’s achievements was to have the entire cast dancing together on a stage smaller than the average kitchen.‘Generous’ and ‘good-natured’ were the words that came to mind as I left the theatre.
It boasts a cast of seventeen, massive for an off-West End venue in these straitened times and that cast is, without exception, talented, enthusiastic and eager to please. This particular production deserves a much wider audience. My neighbour, the resident Free As Air aficionado, gave his judgement, as the lights came up: “What a tonic!” CLARE ANNAMALAI Everything Theatre *****