The New Vic – Quality Street Review
Written by Hitmix Local News on 9 March 2023
Quality Street – The New Vic Theatre – in association with Northern Broadsides
Review – Jane Lythgoe, Hitmix Radio – All photographs courtesy of Andrew Billington
‘Quality Street’ written by JM Barrie – funny, captivating and vibrant. A great script superbly delivered by a strong, talented cast.
You know right away that this is going to be a great script from the writer of Peter Pan, and it has been tweaked just enough to ensure it appeals to modern audiences. And of course the chocolates were named after the play!
The play starts with workers at the Quality Street factory chatting about the play, the factory and life in general and sets the scene quite nicely. They appear a few times during the play and tie everything together.
Quality Street is set in the early 1800’s during the Napoleonic Wars, so even when first written it was an historical piece. Two sisters Phoebe and Susan Throssel, both very different, are the centre of the play – Phoebe (Paula Lane) expecting a proposal of marriage only to be disappointed and Susan (Louisa-May Parker) totally accepting of the fact that she will remain a spinster for life. Phoebe’s love interest Valentine Brown (Aron Julius) enjoys the company of both sisters, getting enjoyment from teasing them, and instead of making the expected proposal of marriage to Phoebe announces that he is going off to war.
The sisters open a school to make ends meet and manage to survive although life is bleak.
When Captain Brown returns home 10 years later, much to his disappointment the years have taken their toll on Phoebe, who is driven to having to pretend to be an imaginary younger niece to win back Valentine Brown’s affection – without giving too much away, shall we say … ’all’s well that ends well’.
It is a very witty, quirky play with much laugher throughout. Much of the comedy is provided by the housekeeper Patty (Gilly Tompkins) who plays the part just right.
Paula Lane goes through all of the motions with Phoebe – starting out as the young ‘Phoebe of the Ringlets’ waiting for a proposal, the disappointment, loss and shame, the school teacher and of course the outrageously flirtatious Miss Livvy! A great role for an actor showing so many dimensions and she performed it beautifully. Louisa-May Parker showed the contrasting character of Susan and was outstanding. Throughout the play we see the differences between the sisters but also the absolute bond and love between them transcends their differences. They bounced off each other brilliantly in those hysterical scenes at the end.
Aron Julius is the perfect ‘Valentine Brown’, providing humour from the start as he threw his coat over the housekeeper’s head. He interacted well with the sisters and again shows many facets of VB’s character with true expertise and charisma.
Not forgetting of course Fanny and Mary Willoughby, two ‘busy-body’ neighbours played by Jelani D’Aguilar and Alicia McKenzie, and the glamourous Charlotte Parratt played by Alice Imelda, who all added wit and charm. Also Alex Moran and Jamie Smelt played their various characters with humour and great comic timing. And, of course, the wonderful (if a bit scary) puppets!!
The sets are simple but just right, the lady’s costumes at the ball can only be described as ‘edible’ in those beautiful vibrant ‘wrapper’ colours. (In fact, the purple cape was fabulous and keeps on creeping into my mind – I wonder how it would look with a pair of heels and faux leather trousers!!)
At the end, the humour increases and the comedy brilliance of all of the cast comes shining through – they were obviously having a great time .. as were we, the audience!
The combination of a great script, the exceptional ability of the actors coupled with the great talent of the creative team – casting, design, sound, lighting, direction, choreography and puppetry make this an absolute must see performance.
It’s a lovely light-hearted but intricate play that warms your heart and definitely gives your chuckle-muscle plenty of exercise! Definitely a 5-star performance!