At the Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich, July 2018 From the Director’s notes we learn that Jez Pike has “re-imagined” Quality Street to “imbue the play with a feminist voice” and present Valentine Brown as “a more emotionally complex character” than in Barrie’s original romantic comedy. The “re-imagination” works well. Phoebe Throssel is freed from the constraints of her gender role in the Edwardian society for which Barrie wrote. Valentine is made to re-consider his previously held male expectations of women. At the end of this new version of the play, their shared declaration of love is as dramatically satisfying as it is psychologically true in terms of their characters as Pike presents them. Barrie’s plot hinges on the extent to which the audience suspends its disbelief that Valentine can’t recognise Miss Livvy and Miss Phoebe are one and the same. At the Maddermarket, Phoebe’s transformation from mob-capped school teacher to ringleted and flirtatious Livvy is completely convincing. This is just as well as, at this point in the play, the Maddermarket’s production fails to communicate any sense whatsoever of a ball (with music and dancing) taking place! Typically with the Maddermarket’s amateur cast every character looks just right for his or her part. Bizarrely, Valentine Brown is similar in appearance and manner to Norfolk-brought up Stephen Fry. All of Barrie’s main characters consistently engage the audience throughout. Susan Throssel stands out as the perfect “old maid”, humorous but near-tragic in the way she projects her own experience of unrequited love onto her younger sister. In bitter sweet “Quality Street” Barrie contrives to raise contemporary issues facing women. Despite Internet dating, how does the like of Susan find her lifetime companion?
Pitlochry Theatre have included a Barrie play in their repertoire again this year (2018). Last year they performed Mary Rose and this year it is the turn of Quality Street. In the past they have also included The Admirable Crichton, The Twelve Pound Look, The Old Lady Shows her Medals and Shall We Join The Ladies? Four of us from National Trust for Scotland ventured up to Pitlochry one evening. The play was amusing from curtain up and is basically a love story set at the time of the Napoleonic Wars. For those who do not know the play it portrays the trials and tribulations of two sisters, the younger of the two, Miss Phoebe has fallen in love with a Mr Brown. Mr Brown visits the sisters as he wishes to tell Phoebe something important, and Phoebe thinks he is going to propose but instead he tells her he has enlisted. He is unaware of Phoebe's feelings for him or that the investments he recommended to the sisters had lost their value, leaving the ladies in financial difficulty. Ten years pass and Brown, now a Captain, returns to Quality Street from the war to see the sisters and is sad and shocked to see that Phoebe appears tired and to have lost her youthful looks. This is due to the fact that Phoebe and her sister, Miss Susan, have been working hard running a school in order to keep body and soul together. The plot develops with various twists and turns. It is intricate and has elements of farce which keep you engaged and entertained and it is really funny particularly towards the end. It also looks at nosy neighbours, customs and mores of the time and when first performed (1902) was so popular that Mr Macintosh used the design of the costumes and title of the play to produce his tins of sweets, Quality Street. Bravo Pitlochry Festival Theatre for keeping the works of Barrie in the limelight by their regular productions of his works. We all enjoyed the evening and I know from other visitors to J M Barrie's Birthplace who have also seen the play that they have enjoyed it as well.
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