The original Quality Street play, written by J. M Barrie (writer of Peter Pan) premiered in 1901. A sweet (pun intended) romantic comedy in which our heroine Phoebe (brilliantly played by Paula Lane) tries to survive when the love of her life leaves for the wars, only to return 10 years later and not recognise her. Pretending to be her niece Livvy to win his affection, will Phoebe get her man or humiliate herself and her sister in the process? With the nosey neighbours watching their every move, how will Phoebe/Livvy convince the residents of Quality Street that they are different people?
The Quality Street chocolates were created in 1936 and named after the play, with the two characters appearing on the box in Regency-era clothing. Northern Broadsides’ production brilliantly incorporates both Barrie’s original play and anecdotes from factory workers who produced the chocolates. From the set to costuming the integration of Regency-era script and a history of the chocolate box is present throughout.
The set is created using a scaffolded frame showing two rooms with blue and white furnishings. The use of scaffolding creates a sense of space as well as a sense of the audience peering through the living room, the action always being watched… Even the door is suggested through a metal frame only. Towards the back, the long plastic drapes of the factory door – a nod to the factory floor, are also present with the scaffolding. The contrast between modern to Regency is interesting with the metal frame and plastic factory curtain against the dark wooden furniture and crocheted soft furnishings. The use of puppetry allows characters to play small children and was executed well.
The play starts with the Quality Street workers, in factory uniforms, talking to each other about their time in the factory. They then go on to watch the play and comment on the action whilst giving anecdotes of their time in the factory. After each act the workers discuss the action as they move props and furniture, allowing for the set to change.
The characters all wear block colours – the same as the wrappers of Quality Street – in Regency-era fashions. In Act 3, the ball decorations are reminiscent of sweet wrappers as well as the ball gowns with metallic shades, with our heroine Phoebe/Livvy in purple, everyone’s favourite Quality Street Chocolate!
I found the second half more engaging than the first as the various plots twist and collide. There are some modern twists in the use of party songs and a modernised Regency dance. The cast is great, Gilly Tompkins as Patty is particularly hilarious.
I’m not sure Barrie’s Quality Street on its own would have quite captured me but I enjoyed the playful way Northern Broadsides combined both the story and the chocolate box. A charming farce, improved by the addition of Quality Street.
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