BWW Review: FLOWERS FOR MRS HARRIS, Chichester Festival Theatre
First staged at Sheffield Theatres for a short run in 2016, Richard Taylor and Rachel Wagstaff's Flowers for Mrs Harris is brought to life again by Daniel Evans at Chichester Festival Theatre. With Clare Burt returning to the title role, it becomes a tear-jerking, runaway success that will not fail to touch the hearts of its audience.
Based on the novel by Paul Gallico, Mrs Harris might not appear destined for success as a musical, with its post-Second World War austerity Battersea setting, but at its core there lives an unfailingly generous and kind character - one many will have seen in their own family. Combined with emotive songs and catchy lyrics ("Mrs Harris is going to Paris"), it's sure to be a favourite.
However, what is truly ground-breaking about this adaptation is the chance to highlight a story centred on an 'average' woman in her fifties - not usually the stuff of theatre.
The plot hinges on Ada Harris falling in love with a Christian Dior dress seen on a wealthy client of her friend. A classic Cinderella story, Mrs Harris decides that she must scrimp and save, cutting out her little luxuries and working around the clock to be able to visit Paris and purchase one of those dresses.
While the premise may seem frivolous, it's all built on a woman's determination to succeed - to break out from the mundane and allow herself to let go of her past, including her beloved Albert.
Paris - very much like Alice stepping through the looking glass - presents a luxury-filled elsewhere that eventually shows itself to be a mirror image, presenting the same troop of people needing Mrs Harris to save the day.
This is where Louis Maskell and Laura Pitt-Pulford make themselves stand out from the cast with their dual opposing roles: accountant/photographer and aspiring actress/model dreaming of a simple life respectively. Both actors and their interaction with our lead here truly builds the story, adding layers upon an already delicious cake.
As the world turns from Battersea to Paris and back again, we see colour and beauty invade the stage - beginning with the Harris home, building towards the fantastic scene where Dior's latest collection is displayed before climaxing back in the 'Garden of Eden'.
The care and consideration of Lez Brotherston's design is evident in the details, and the strong landscapes and key framing pieces allow the costumes and music to speak for themselves.
Above all, this musical is one that touches the soul, drawing on memories of family and friendship - with its brilliant lead and supporting cast exploring one woman's extraordinary story of life, liberty and the pursuit of beauty. After all, a life without flowers isn't worth living.
Photo credit: Johan Persson