Flowers for Mrs Harris
Chichester Festival Theatre
British theatregoers love a musical. As long as it has a heart-warming story. strong voices and good acting, it doesn’t even need a memorable song. ‘Flowers for Mrs Harris’ ticked all these boxes and the Chichester Festival Theatre audience took it to their hearts.
Festival Theatre artistic director Daniel Evans has reprised his award-winning production in Sheffield two years ago when it won several awards, including best musical. The story is from a sugarcoated novella by Paul Gallico. The music is by Richard Taylor, who has composed for West End shows, the National Theatre and the RSC; and the Gallico story was adapted by Rachel Wagstaff, who re-worked Sebastian Faulks’s novel Birdsong for the West End.
Ada Harris (Clare Burt) spends her widowhood arranging flowers and keeping her Battersea home clean in the imagined company of her husband Albert. She is a saintly daily, supporting neighbours and her cleaning clients. Without demur and without any thought for herself. But most people take her altruistic efforts for granted. Her aspirations and her life change when she spots a beautiful Christian Dior dress in a brochure, and she determines to find a way of getting to Paris. The first act shows how she helps people and scrimps and saves to raise money for her dream ticket to Paris, with a little help and guidance from her friends.
Clare Burt made a marvellous Mrs Harris, reprising the role for which she had won an award in Sheffield. Support from the likes of Joanna Ridding and Gary Wilmot was strong, and the cast performed parallel roles in the Paris part of the show.
It was rather disappointing that the evening lacked a memorable song, with recitative prevailing, and some of the lyrics were drowned by the loudness of the music, so a minus mark for musical director Tom Brady. Spoiler alert: there is a happy ending, and the CFT audience rose as one to give the production a standing ovation.