British musicals in the 1950s to 1960s.
Scene from Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds' musical Salad Days, photography by Houston Rogers, 1960, black and white photograph
Salad Days was written to fill a three week gap in the Summer season at the Bristol Old Vic in June 1954. Julian Slade, the musical director and composer at the theatre, joined with actress Dorothy Reynolds to write this gentle, frivolous tale of a magic piano. The show took on a life of its own, transferred to London and eventually outran even Oklahoma! in a staggering five and a half year, 2283 performance run at the traditionally unlucky Vaudeville Theatre. Two new graduates, Timothy and Jane, fed up with their parents' plans for them, decide simply to get married and fall in love later. A tramp arrives and offers to pay them for looking after his piano for a month. The piano, Minnie, turns out to have special powers. Everyone who hears her is compelled to dance and, of course, by the end of the month's adventures Timothy and Jane are in love for real. Simple but lyrical songs such as 'Look at Me, I'm Dancing' and 'The Time of My Life' made the show a romantic, enchanting success.
Piano stage prop used in the musical Salad Days, 1954. Museum no. S.85-1978
Scene from Oh, What a Lovely War!, Royal National Theatre, London, August 1998, black and white photograph. Museum no. TM 10339-1/16
This is a 1998 revival of Oh What a Lovely War!, the musical that was one of the most famous productions directed by the extraordinary Joan Littlewood and her company, Theatre Workshop. It was a savage satire based on the World War I. Written by Littlewood in 1963 it ruthlessly exposed the horrors of the trenches and the callous incompetence of the ruling aristocracy that sent 1000s of men to their death. The whole thing was dressed up as an Edwardian music hall show performed by pierrots who were popular in seaside pier shows. Theatre Workshop was a radical left-wing theatre company who aimed to bring theatre to the people. Much of their work was created through improvisation in rehearsal. As part of the process of creating Oh What A Lovely War! the company invited locals to come and see the work in progress and ended up incorporating some of their stories into the production.
Barry Humphries as Fagin in Lionel Bart's musical adaptation of Charles Dickens's novel Oliver Twist, London Palladium, 1997. Museum no. 0323-115
Oliver! was Lionel Bart's musical adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist. The brilliant combination of soulful ballads like 'As Long As He Needs Me' and 'Where Is Love?', and rollicking singalong numbers like 'Consider Yourself' and 'Oom pah pah' with the lowlife setting and dark subplots of Dickens's book made it Bart's greatest success. It opened at the New Theatre in 1960, received 23 curtain calls and ran for 2618 performances. The 1968 film version won six Oscars, including Best Picture. Among the original cast on stage was one Barry Humphries as Mr Sowerberry, the Undertaker. By the 1967 revival, Humphries had moved up to playing the lead, Fagin, the seedy sinister crook who trains orphans and street urchins in pickpocketing. Fagin has some of the best songs in the show, including 'You've got to pick a pocket or two' and 'Reviewing the Situation'. Humphries played the role again in 1997, a salutary reminder that he has always been more than just his world famous outrageous alter ego, Australian 'superstar' Dame Edna Everage.
Susan Hampshire as Victoria in Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds' musical Follow that Girl, photography by Houston Rogers, Vaudeville Theatre, London, March 1960
Following their success with Salad Days Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds collaborated again. Follow That Girl was a re-working of their musical play Christmas in King Street (the 1952 Christmas show at the Bristol Old Vic). It opened at the Vaudeville Theatre, in the wake of Salad Days, on 17 March 1960, closing after 211performances. The show begins in the present day with a young author, Tom, discussing a play he has written in which he and his girlfriend Victoria feature as hero and heroine. The characters Tom has invented appear and the scene changes to Victorian England, where Tom and Victoria play out the plot of Tom's play - a melodrama of long lost sons, unwanted suitors, attempted suicides, and eventual happy endings. In this photograph from the original 1960 production Susan Hampshire as Victoria, in her Victorian persona, receives the attentions of the two shopkeepers her parents wish her to marry. Their persistence drives her to run away from home, into the arms of handsome Police Constable Tom Blenkinsop.