Tag Archives: Sara Perks

Flowers for Mrs Harris


Riverside Studios

FLOWERS FOR MRS HARRIS at the Riverside Studios


Flowers for Mrs Harris

“Jenna Russell slips into the title role as though it was tailor made for her, giving a performance that is as strong as it appears unassuming”

It takes its time, but the moment the curtain comes down on Mrs Harris you’ll be purring like the cat who has had more than its fair share of cream. As she stands centre stage with the memory of her late husband, we realise that the gaping hole in her heart has been filled, in the same way that ours are overflowing with warmth, born of the simple acts of kindness, love and selfless compassion. When Paul Gallico’s the novella – “Flowers for Mrs Harris” – was first published in 1958 its dust jacket read; ‘This is, if you like, a fairy tale. But of its enchantment, humour and pathos there can be no doubt… it will be loved for many years to come’.

Similar words would not be out of place in the programme notes for Richard Taylor’s and Rachel Wagstaff’s musical. Set in London during the 1950s, Ada Harris (or ‘Arris as she would say) is a hard-working cleaning lady whose clients range from eligible bachelors and society women to actresses. While cleaning for Lady Dant, Mrs Harris opens a wardrobe to discover an Haute Couture Dior dress. Enamoured and overwhelmed, she decides then and there that she will have one of her own. After a modest Football Pools win and two-and-a-half years of scrimping, her desire is achievable.

But this is never really about the dress. It is all about the human spirit. Ada Harris’ journey to Paris and back is not a material voyage, nor even a pilgrimage. It is a personal quest – of triumph over adversity and the discovery of qualities we all seek and do in fact possess if we look hard enough. This is very much brought out in Bronagh Lagan’s tender revival of the musical. Jenna Russell slips into the title role as though it was tailor made for her, giving a performance that is as strong as it appears unassuming. Old school charm is the name of the game here. Russell’s performance is a delicacy whose rich flavours linger long after curtain call.

“a sumptuous production, with Richard Taylor’s lush score eking out every emotion”

It is a quality that is shared by the whole company. While Russell is the main thread, the ensemble double up as characters from Ada Harris’ London life and also their French counterparts in Paris. There is almost a ‘Wizard of Oz’ aspect to this parallel world where the characters are distinct yet recognisable. Hal Fowler is magnificent as the reassuring ghost of Ada’s late husband, later appearing as the widowed French Marquis who finds common ground with Ada’s yearning humour. Charlotte Kennedy is truly watchable as the London based aspiring actress and the disillusioned Parisian model. It seems unfair not to be able to list them all, but mention must go to Nathanael Campbell as Bob the lovesick, shy accountant whose character is mirrored in Paris by André who finds love courtesy of Ada’s spirited intervention. Annie Wensak gives a colourfully nuanced performance as Ada’s best friend, fellow char lady and next-door neighbour Violet.

Kelly Price is the deliciously haughty yet compassionate Lady Dant, whose dress sparks off the whole story. As Madame Colbert, the troubled manager at the House of Dior, her performance is as polished as the House of Dior itself. Initially snubbing the unwelcome Ada, she and other Parisian personalities swiftly come under the spell of Ada and her magic wand. If anything, though, it is too quick and easy and the transformation of the staff at the fashion house a little hurried, which stands out in an otherwise slow-burning narrative. But it is a sumptuous production, with Richard Taylor’s lush score eking out every emotion. Seamlessly weaving in and out of the dialogue it is the essential flow that keeps the characters’ hearts beating.

Yes, this is ‘if you like, a fairy tale’. And we are in no doubt about its enchantment. A touch sentimental and safe maybe, but the warmest and most comforting antidote you could find for the oncoming autumnal evenings. Oh, and a hidden star of the show that can’t be avoided: Sara Perks’ costumes would walk proud on any Parisian catwalk*.


*The Dior gowns in the show were kindly loaned by Lez Brotherston from the original production


FLOWERS FOR MRS HARRIS at the Riverside Studios

Reviewed on 5th October 2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Pamela Raith



Previously reviewed at this venue:


Run to the Nuns – The Musical | ★★★★ | July 2023
The Sun Will Rise | ★★★ | July 2023
Tarantino Live: Fox Force Five & The Tyranny Of Evil Men | ★★★★★ | June 2023
Killing The Cat | ★★ | March 2023
Cirque Berserk! | ★★★★★ | February 2023
David Copperfield | ★★★ | February 2023
A Level Playing Field | ★★★★ | February 2022
The Devil’s in the Chair | ★★★★ | February 2022

Flowers for Mrs Harris

Flowers for Mrs Harris

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A Merchant of Venice

A Merchant of Venice


Playground Theatre

A Merchant of Venice

A Merchant of Venice

The Playground Theatre

Reviewed – 15th November 2021



“Alexander’s interpretation has only served to shine a brighter light on the problems of this story, resolving none of them”


At its best, Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice is wildly problematic. But, being so iconic, so confounding and complex, we just can’t simply do away with it. As with so much of Shakespeare, the prose has become idiomatic, and speeches such as Shylock’s heart-crushing, “If you prick us, do we not bleed” could no more be discarded than Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” or Mercucio’s “A curse on both your houses.” But! Be all that as it may, the play remains problematic.

‘Shakespeare in Italy’’s A Merchant in Venice promises a modern take on the old script, cutting the cast and focusing on only six characters and their relationships with one and other, wrestling with “Justice and Mercy, Marriage and Money, Race and Class” and “the tortured nature of love.” A modern take is exactly what this play needs, magnifying the complexities and drawing them out, and throwing away anything that no longer resonates with a contemporary audience. Unfortunately, adaptor and director Bill Alexander has completely wasted this opportunity.

The main thrust of the story is that a rich Venetian, Antonio (John McAndrew), guarantors a loan for his friend Bassanio (Alexander Knox) with moneylender Shylock (Peter Tate), affectionately termed “The Jew” for most of the play. Antonio being his longstanding enemy, Shylock only agrees to the loan on the term that should Antonio fail to repay the loan by its due date, Shylock should be entitled to a pound of Antonio’s flesh. When terrible misfortune causes Antonio to lose all his money, Shylock comes knocking.

With the loss of smaller parts, the remaining characters must carry their burden too. Portia (Lena Robin), for example is left to fend alone in her introductory speech, where once her handmaiden Nerissa would have made it a conversation. Rather than a witty back-and-forth regarding her ridiculous suitors, we’re left with a long, glib ramble, superficially improved by the use of a mobile phone prop in a poor attempt to modernise.

The script has been cut, and in some places, I believe actually rewritten. If you’re going to edit Shakespeare, do so boldly. Instead, the general semi-opacity of Shakespearian English remains, but much of the poeticism is lost. This might also be blamed on the delivery though, so I can’t put it all on the edit. I wasn’t sitting with a script on my lap, so I don’t know for certain what was cut and what wasn’t, only that, perhaps in an attempt to lighten the play’s hefty discussion of endemic racism, the plot has been simplified to goodies and baddies, the Venetians being the goodies, and “The Jew” the baddie. Which ironically makes for a far less modern discussion than is allowed in the unabridged version.

I did briefly wonder whether perhaps I was simply too sensitive to the play’s anti-Semitism, given that Shakespeare was around a pretty long time ago. But, seeing the CLF Art Café’s 2019 production I recall vividly that, despite the confusingly ‘happy’ ending (resolved only by lopping it off and ending with the scene prior), they had done well to flesh out the nuances of the tensions between Antonio and Shylock, highlighting Shylock’s humanity, and the causes of his great bitterness. So, it is absolutely possible to leave this play without feeling somehow complicit.

In a way, the production’s lacklustre design- mostly black costumes and some fold-out chairs- and thoughtless stage set-up- a thrust stage, forcing the performers to show their back to much of the audience when giving their boldest speeches- simplifies things. You’re not missing anything.

The only positive note is that Alex Wilson’s Gratiano, is quite wonderful. His character is rich and complicated, playing the bully and obsequious friend to a tee, despite having very little to work with from the rest of the cast.

Obviously, a lot of people worked hard on this production, and I don’t suggest anyone had deviant or malicious intentions. But it is very much the case that Alexander’s interpretation has only served to shine a brighter light on the problems of this story, resolving none of them. To a large extent it’s a poisoned chalice to begin with. Best leave it alone and pick a less controversial number, like Othello.


Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Guy Bell


A Merchant of Venice

The Playground Theatre until 4th December


Also reviewed at this venue this year:
Ida Rubinstein: The Final Act | ★★ | September 2021


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