Northern Broadsides Quality Street. A Delightful Confection
"Jane Eyre goes to the Panto" might be an unkind summary of Laurie Sansom's first outing as Artistic Director of Northern Broadsides, nonetheless it is a reasonable shorthand.
Dario Coates as Valentine Brown
J.M.Barrie's original piece is called Quality Street
, and it was so popular in its day that that its name was used by the chocolate manufacturer Mackintosh, from Halifax. Characters from the play were used regularly in the early advertising for the chocolates and the film and stage versions remained hugely popular from the early 1900's to the start of the Second World War.
With soldiers disappearing off to fight for King and Country in the Napoleonic wars and the ladies left at home to cope, the original play has the etiquette, mannerisms and dress sense of the Brontë's, but it is Northern Broadsides who have added the 21st century wit - not too much to destroy the original, but enough to raise the roof when required.
Jessica Baglow as Phoebe
Jessica Baglow as Phoebe, the heroine of the piece, is rather wonderful as her two personalities, a demure, opposed-by-life school mistress (Phoebe) and her alter ago (Miss Livvy) are such different facets of the same person. It must be a fun role to play.
Louisa-May Parker as Susan is the constant sister/companion of Phoebe. Shy and content with her lot in life, her world is rather put through the ringer by Phoebe's wild side.
Despite affectations from Four Weddings and a Funeral, sans Weddings, sans Funeral, Dario Coates (as Phoebe's would-be husband Valentine Brown) makes a splendidly enthusiastic soldier and, after returning from the long protracted campaign against Napoleon, a more mature and thoughtful individual.
Louisa-May Parker as Susan
And that you might think, is it. Boy meets girl, boy goes to war, boy returns home , they conflict and finally resolve their differences. But in this production there's a twist - a delightful, playful, entertaining one at that. J.M Barrie's play is set within another play; one about a group of workers at the Mackintosh factory, and it makes a huge contribution to the whole. The 'outer' play firmly locates the action in the North and emphasises Northern Broadsides credentials as a production company with a "northern voice". It is perhaps ironic that a play by a Barrie should become a re-launch vehicle for a company first founded by a Barrie (the much-lover Rutter of course).
For some reason I didn't want to like this piece. It seemed too straightforward, too strait-laced. But I must confess to being thoroughly won-over by the production and it was, at its zenith, very amusing indeed. What a splendid start for Laurie Sansom and his team.