Thursday, 26 May 2016

Flowers for Mrs Harris

Flowers for Mrs Harris *****
By Rachel Wagstaff and Richard Taylor
Crucible Theatre, Sheffield
Director: Daniel Evans
Cast includes: Claire Burt, Anna-Jane Casey, Mark Meadows
Dates: 19th May to 4th June
Times: 7:30. Matinees, 2:30 Wednesdays and Saturdays
Running Time: 2hrs 40mins including interval
Review by Nicola Wallace
26th May 2016

When you first hear about this new musical, it sounds cute but not exactly the most riveting of topics. Based on the novel Mrs Harris Goes To Paris by Paul Gallico, Flowers for Mrs Harris is about a woman who sees a Dior dress and decides that she must have one. That is essentially a very barebones synopsis. But, oh my goodness, it is so much more than that! It’s funny, moving and gives you hope – all dreams are achievable. Mrs Harris is a cleaning woman in post-war, austerity era London who, after seeing a Dior dress in one of her clients’ homes, embarks on a quest to own one herself. She saves up enough money, after a few mishaps, to fly to Paris and purchase one. By the sheer force and wit of her personality, she makes a difference not only within her own life, but the various lives of others. After years of feeling alone after she is left widowed after the Second World War, she realises that she is not quite so lonely after all. It is a sentimental fairytale of never giving up hope and not letting life’s obstacles stand in your way. Through hard work and a good heart, Mrs Harris achieves her dream. Seriously, there was not a dry eye in the house by the end! I even shed a few tears myself!

It is an outstanding production. Writer Rachel Wagstaff and composer/lyricist Richard Taylor bring together Mrs Harris’ quest with humour and heart in a whirlwind of emotions. Seriously, there are a lot of feels in this production! Make sure you take your tissues. The music is stirring and fits with the overall production beautifully.  There are never songs just for the sake of them; they always bring something to the action on stage and move along the production succinctly. The actors themselves are all brilliant and embody their roles so so well! The casting is perfect and this production seemed to have been made for them – much like a Dior dress! I bet the costume department had a whale of a time with all those dresses! I was very jealous of the actors who got to wear some very gorgeous Dior dresses – would have liked to have worn a few myself! The revolving stage allows for quick and slick set changes which never overpower the action on stage. It looks stunning as well. By the end, the stage is literally alive with colour as Mrs Harris learns of the good she has done. As Daniel Evan’s final production as artistic director of the Crucible, he certainly goes out with a standing ovation. 
Unfortunately, my flowers have died!
And I don't think a penny would bring
them back!

If you want to see a fairytale, plenty of gorgeous dresses or just to have a good cry, then seriously, go see this play! It’s on until the 4th of June at the Crucible – more details can be found here.

Also I have recently got Twitter, so if you want to give me a follow for more random theatre trips, Live for 5 news or just me ruminating about life, then here you go: @nicola_wallace5

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

The James Plays: The Prisoner, The Innocent and The Glam Rock Star

Its been a while but, in between all the work and the dissertation which is now finally finished, I went to the theatre to see three plays in a day. The James Plays.

This trilogy of plays has been billed as “Scotland’s answer to Game of Thrones” and it is certainly as binge-watchable! Though we only had to wait a few hours for the next instalment, not years. The plays start off with a young James I who, after been kept prisoner in England for 18 years, has to unite the families of Scotland and prove himself as king. The drama and familial relationships develop over 3 generations of the Stewart family who seek war with other countries, with other families and finally with their own family. It was really easy to be absorbed into their world; the contemporary language removes the barrier so often felt with Shakespeare’s history plays and brings to life stories that have been left out of the literary canon. The writing was witty, funny and developed the relationships between the characters – both romantic and platonic alike – fully.

The James Plays
The plays gradually become more stylised in their medieval settings with sets and costumes. By the final play, the medieval world was only invoked by the dipped hems of the back of the ladies’ dresses and the men’s jackets. Though contemporary elements were peppered throughout all the plays – modern shoes in the first play and jeans in the second – creating the sense that these medieval kings and queens were perhaps not so different than the audience. We were lucky enough to be able to watch the first play seated on the stage which was just a brilliant experience! It made the whole play much more intimate, as it would, and made the audience feel like they were part of the action with the actors walking past you every so often. There were muttered expletives and secret glances which could only be seen and heard from the stage seating, and now I can say I had a front row seat to a monarch’s coronation! That totally counts, right?

Ready for the first play!

The first James play is all about political intrigue. The Scottish King James is released from an English prison after 18 years and he must prove himself to the powerful families of Scotland who are not happy that he has returned and reclaimed the throne. There is a battle sequence whilst James’ wife, Joan, gives birth in the midst of it all and a giant sword that drips (or rather, sprays) blood. This first play was action packed, bloody and full of betrayals.

A very sunny Lyceum for part two!
It’s a testament of a good actor who can go from making me dislike him to finding him adorable in a matter of hours, so congratulations Andrew Rothney! The play follows James II (as it would) from his childhood and shows how he grew to become king. It mainly concerns itself with James’ and his childhood friend’s, William Douglas, relationship, rather than politics on a grander scale. The giant sword was now a flame thrower which echoed the destruction of James’ own childhood – his father being assassinated, becoming king at the age of 6 and being a pawn in the other families’ games – which continued to haunt him into his adulthood. This was very well done through the repetition of nightmares that brought the audience through his early days as king to his taking back of power succinctly. Also, he spends much of the first act in a box, if you like that kind of thing.

The end of the final play
What is there to say about the final James play? Wow. The three words I would use to describe it would be flamboyant, camp and tight trousers. He was easily the most dislikeable of all the James’ but definitely the funniest. There was a change in tone in this final play as it became softer and more about how his wife, Margaret, was a better ruler than he was. James III was like a glam rock superstar who was afraid of ever growing old. And I now want a choir to follow me round all day to announce my presence!

So, if you want to see a guy swinging an axe in close proximity to you, a football game on stage, bagpipe and accordion renditions of Lady Gaga, Pharrell Williams and The Human League, or just men in kilts, then these are the plays for you!

Don't forget! You can still sign up for Live for 5 tickets on line - just click here to start! And if you want to see The James Plays, here's the website to find out where they are touring.