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?
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