Quality Street – Royal and Derngate, Northampton

Reviewer: Simon Tavener

Writer: J M Barrie

Director: Laurie Sansom

Reviving a once-popular play that has been neglected for many years is always a risk. But Northern Broadsides are to be commended for bringing JM Barrie’s charming comedy back for modern audiences to enjoy. And considering this production was interrupted by the events of 2020 and is only now returning to the stage, their persistence is also to be celebrated.

Quality Street is the only play to have ever inspired the creation of a range of chocolates and Laurie Sansom, adaptor and director of the production, adds a neat framing device by incorporating a number of voices from the real chocolate factory into the narrative. This verbatim style of theatre contrasts well with Barrie’s period text and, at times, reminds the audience of Victoria Wood’s dinnerladies with the warmth and humanity it adds to the stage.

The play itself is relatively slight but always engaging and entertaining. It is a romantic comedy set in the early nineteenth century featuring the romantic travails of Phoebe Throssel and Valentine Brown. Revealing the twists and turns in their relationship would spoil the surprises in store but rest assured that you will leave the theatre feeling very satisfied and, like a good box of chocolates, wanting more.

Performances are universally strong. Most of the cast play multiple roles and do so with clarity and purpose. The use of puppets could be jarring but is integrated seamlessly.

Gilly Tompkins stands out as Patty, the only below-stairs character. She relishes every moment and has an impeccable sense of comic timing. Aron Julius is charm personified as Valentine – he cuts a dashing figure on stage and gives a commanding performance. He is well matched by Paula Lane’s Phoebe who captures the many sides of her character the text demands.

The performances are excellently supported by gorgeous costume design from Jessica Worrall and Lis Evans and a superlative lighting design by Joe Price and Symon Culpan. Indeed all the creative elements come together in a satisfying but non-intrusive way.

Laurie Sansom’s direction is clear, well paced and always considered. It is clearly a modern take on a period play but gives due respect to the original. This is a skill that a number of contemporary directors would be well advised to develop.

There is absolutely an appetite for witty, elegant and charming period comedies in our modern, sometimes colourless world. You only have to witness the success of Bridgerton to be sure of that. Northern Broadsides have brought their own flavour to this play and it is a delight on all levels.

Runs until: 8 April and on tour

The Reviews Hub Score

Sweet and Charming

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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