Quality Street. Richmond Theatre, Little Green, Richmond TW9 to 15 April 2023 and then on tour. 4****. William Russell.

Quality Street was J.M. Barrie’s first West End play. It opened originally on Broadway in 1901 with Maude Adams starring as Pheobe and was a modest success, but the following year in London at the Vaudeville with Seymour Hicks and Elaline Terris, matinee idols of the time, it was a massive hit and for the next 35 years until his death Barrie plays were a regular feature of the London stage. Most of them today are forgotten and his fame rests on Peter Pan. This version of Quality Street presented by Northern Broadsides and New Victoria theatre directed by Laurie Sansom oddly does not credit Barrie in the programme but maybe that is because liberties have been taken, It is basically a rom com set during the Napoleonic wars in which Miss Phoebe and her admirer Valentine Brown get involved in a series of misunderstanding. The Halifax chocolate firm a few years after the premier took the title for its sweets known still as Quality Street and had a regency buck and his sweetheart portrayed on the tin. This led to Sansom and friends interviewing some of the people who worked for the company, recorded their views of the play, and they appear as a kind of chorus commenting on the goings on. It took a little while to work on press night at Richmond but as the evening wore on it all came together and by the time everyone was at a ball – the Regency was the heyday of balls – wearing dresses that looked as if they had been made from chocolate wrappings it had become hilarious. Barrie might be a little surprised by it all, but the result is a soft centred rich tasty creamy delight with nice performances from Aron Julius as Captain Valentine Brown and Paula Lane as Pheobe Throssel, the woman he loves but is too shy to propose to. When he comes back from the wars Phoebe, who has decided she in an old maid, pretends to be her niece and Valentine, who is possibly not as bright as he might be, falls for her. But in a rom com anything can happen. The rest of the cast play the Barrie roles and the people from the Quality Street commenting on the action.

It could have been a disaster, but Sansom has put it all together and secured mostly pitch perfect performances – there are even some puppets when they run out of human actors.

Jelani D’Aguilar: Fanny, Isabella, Sandra.

Alice Imelda: Charlotte Parratt, Jo.

Aron Julius: Valentine Brown.

Paula Lane: Phoebe Throssel.

Alicia McKenzie: mary Wiloughby, Lotte.

Alex Moran: Ensign Blades, Arthur, Brenda.

Louise-May Parker: Susan Throssel.

Jamie Smelt: recruiting Sergeant, Georgy, Spicer.

Gilly Tompkins: Patty, Barbara,

Director Laurie Sansom.

Designers: Jessica Worrall, Lis Evans.

Choreographer: Ben Wright,

Puppet Maker: Beka Haigh.

Lighting Designer: Joe Price.

Sound Designer/Composer: Nick Sagar.

Production Photography: Andrew Billington.

Touring to – Bolton, Leeds, York, Sheffield, Hull, Scarborough, Guildford, Keswick, Blackpool and ending up in Halifax.

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