Flowers for Mrs Harris
Chichester Festival Theatre
In these challenging times with the theatres closed Chichester Festival Theatre are currently streaming one of their earlier productions Flowers for Mrs Harris until 8th May. I was fortunate to see the production in September 2018 and therefore have the huge advantage of having been exposed to the full magic of a live theatrical experience, which sadly is lacking when watched on a screen. The production is based on Paul Gallico’s novel Mrs Arris Goes to Paris, a delicate feel-good musical marking Ada Harris’ journey as she sets out to follow her dream.
Ada Harris, a widowed charlady in post war London spends her days working hard cleaning, polishing, darning and mending – then one day she catches a glimpse of a beautiful Christian Dior dress. This life-changing moment sets in motion her dream of owning one herself and on her travels to the Parisian world of haute couture she transforms the lives of everyone she comes across. Finally, this humble cleaning lady allows her own life to flower.
Designer Les Brotherston uses stylish cut-out silhouettes of London and Paris skylines to embellish his minimal set, with a large sweeping staircase in Act 2 for the eight Dior models to descend in their revolutionary narrow-waisted gowns. A dazzling sight.
Clare Burt gives an outstanding and powerful portrayal of the kindly under-dog Ada Harris whose life is turned around by her love of beauty. Fine support comes from the talented cast in their dual roles including Claire Machin as neighbour Violet Butterfield/French charwoman and Laura Pitt-Pulford playing Pamela and then Natasha. Gary Wilmot always impresses and he has the role of Major while Louis Maskell gains much comic mileage playing Frenchman Andre Fauvel.
There are no big numbers but the narrative is moved along by sung-through dialogue bringing post-war austerity to flamboyant sophistication with an unexpected but spectacular climax.
Reviewer: Jill Lawrie