Friday, May 01, 2020

'Flowers for Mrs Harris' by Rachel Wagstaff and Richard Taylor

1 May 2020

Most of the live recordings of shows being shared for free online by theatres at the moment are each only available for a week. So it is difficult to make recommendations here for something you will still have time to watch. Thankfully Chichester Festival Theatre’s brilliant production of the recent musical ‘Flowers for Mrs Harris’ is still available to view for free until 8 May and I would urge you to watch it. ‘Flowers for Mrs Harris’ is based on the novel by Paul Gallico with book by Rachel Wagstaff and music & lyrics by Richard Taylor. Clare Burt stars as Mrs Harris, a widow in post-war Battersea who cleans other people’s houses to make ends meet. Her constant positivity and optimism disguise her continuing struggles with grief at the loss of her husband. Catching sight of an elegant gown by Christian Dior, in one of the grand houses she cleans, makes her dream of having something similar and sets her on a quest to achieve the seemingly impossible. It’s an unlikely premise for an incredibly funny, emotional, feel-good tale. The Guardian review of the original Sheffield Crucible production described it as “like experiencing The Wizard of Oz, Pollyanna and Powell and Pressburger’s war-themed films, all rolled into one – triumph over adversity, hard work rewarded, generosity repaid, the transformational power of art and self-belief, affirmation that loving relationships are the stuff of happiness”, to which I would add something of Willy Russell’s ‘Shirley Valentine. Richard Taylor’s music reminded me of a Stephen Sondheim musical – no big numbers but beautifully sung dialogue. This is a singer’s musical with very little dance but Louis Maskell demonstrates incredible movement, reminiscent of Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow in ‘The Wizard of Oz’. At one point I was convinced he must be supported by wires like a marionette (he wasn’t). And you would need a heart of stone not to weep at the ending. If you want to cheer yourself up watch ‘Flowers for Mrs Harris’ now while it’s still available:

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