Book: Rachel Wagstaff based on the original by Paul Gallico
Music and Lyrics: Richard Taylor
Director: Daniel Evans
Designer: Lez Brotherston
Musical Director: Tom Brady
Reviewer: Fiona Hannon
This new musical adaptation of Paul Gallico’s original book is the final production for Sheffield Theatres Artistic Director, Daniel Evans before he moves on to take charge of Chichester Festival Theatre. During the last seven years, Evans has raised the profile of Sheffield Theatres to be a nationally recognised force, with many magical productions. Sheffield theatre-goers are tremendously grateful for all that he’s done and wish him the best of luck in his new role.
Flowers for Mrs Harris is a gentle, very British piece, set immediately after World War II at a time of loss and ration books. 53 years old, Mrs Harris is a char lady living in Battersea and happy with her lot, until one day she sees a client’s new Christian Dior dress and makes it her quest to travel to Paris and buy her own.
The narrative takes itstime to get going in Act I, and it becomes apparent that Mrs Harris won’t get to Paris until Act II, but the pace picks up once she arrives at Dior. The staging isn’t overly complicated, but the use of a revolve allows Mrs Harris to always be on the move as she dashes around London and then returns back to her kitchen at the centre of the stage to “scrimp and save” the pennies.
Clare Burt returns to Sheffield Theatres (audiences will recognise her as the mum in This Is My Family) to take on the mammoth role of Mrs Harris. Barely off the stage, she flits from client to client in London and then gently manipulates the lives of those she meets in Paris. Always warm, generous and down to earth, but with a steely determination to achieve her goal.
Burt is supported by a small cast of nine other actors, all playing multiple roles straight from Ealing Studios. There are some excellent characterisations in the company and some truly stunning vocals. The score by Richard Taylor, which is almost entirely sung through, is at its best when all the voices are combined and soaring to the heavens and it would be good to have more of these moments.
Given their build up, there is always the danger that when the Dior gowns finally appear in Act II, they might not live up to expectations. Instead, they shimmer and shine like a glossy feature straight from Vogue. Lez Brotherston’s designs are perfection and the Wardrobe team at Sheffield Theatres lead by Debbie Gamble are to be congratulated on creating such exquisite gowns. If these dresses ever make it to the Sheffield Theatres costume hire service, it’s hard to imagine they’ll ever be in store.
This is a sweet natured piece of theatre with a strong retro, vintage feel and if you hanker after simpler times with the kettle always boiling and an occasional milk stout, this will be just your cup of tea.
Runs until Saturday 4 June | Image: Johan Persson