Heartwarming from start to finish this lovely surprise of a musical has so much to recommend it.
There are some theatres that I would absolutely love to visit but unable to get to given travel difficulties and the Chichester Festival Theatre is one of them. I have heard countless people marvelling at productions that it puts on – which is why it is a delight that the theatre is now going to stream a selection of them – beginning with the charmingly gentle Flowers for Mrs Harris.
First produced in Sheffield in 2016, this production lovingly directed by Daniel Evans first premiered in Chichester in 2018 and is perfect viewing in these difficult times. Based on the novella by Paul Gallico, it is a story of self-discovery as Ada Harris after viewing a Dior dress begins to imagine a life away from simply looking after other people (all of whom are wonderfully eccentric characters) to having a life of her own. It is a journey that takes her from London to Paris and offers her a new perspective of the world in which she is not as lonely as she thought as highlighted in the wonderful final scenes that show Ada just how much she is appreciated.
While initially taking a little time to get into, the combination of Rachel Wagstaff’s gently humorous but always sensitive book and Richard Taylor’s sweetly harmonious score ensures that this is a story that has plenty of humanity and highlights the importance of empathy. This is particularly seen in the moments in which Ada is talking to her late husband that lend the show an extra sense of poignancy.
With this production, Daniel Evans has created an instantly likeable show that perfectly captures the character and the journey that she goes on. Yet while at the heart of it is simple storytelling helped by Lez Brotherston’s set design that depends on the revolve to keep the story flowing, there are hints of glamour and sophistication to be found. In particular, during the second act set in the Dior and the moment in which the models come down wearing a variety of dresses – the audience feels the same sense of awe as Ada does. The dresses for this scene in particular have been gorgeously designed and really reflect the Dior sense of design. It is moments such as these that reveal the power of dreams.
Meanwhile, the cast themselves are equally impressive, with many doubling up and playing two contrasting characters. At the heart of it, Clare Burt as Ada Harris offers a lovely understated but always heartfelt performance that is endearing to watch as she explores Paris and the lows when obstacles get in her way. There is a constant yearning in her voice that makes her character relatable and endearing. Elsewhere, Claire Machin as Violet is also wonderful to watch as she encourages Ada in her pursuit of the Dior dress. The way in which she portrays this confident character is immensely enjoyable to watch.
There is also excellent support to be found from Joanna Riding as the snobbish Lady Dant in London and as the kind hearted and strong willed shop assistant in Paris, Laura Pitt-Pulford is as glorious as ever as somewhat selfish but yet likeable Pamela and the sweet natured Natasha.
Some may find this too understated for their tastes but actually Flowers for Mrs Harris is a charming and uplifting musical that will certainly raise your spirits right now.
By Emma Clarendon
Flowers for Mrs Harris is available to watch for free until the 8th May. To watch visit: https://www.cft.org.uk/flowers-for-mrs-harris-broadcast