Flowers For Mrs Harris is an enchanting new musical with music by Richard Taylor (The Go-Between) and a book by Rachel Wagstaff (The Mirror Crack’d).
Based on the 1958 novel by Paul Gallico Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris, the musical had its world premiere at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield in 2016 winning 3 UK Theatre Awards for Best Design, Best Performer in a Musical and Best Musical Production. The show was then revived in 2018 at the Chichester Festival Theatre opening to rave reviews and garnered a complete cast recording and live film which was streamed during the Covid-19 pandemic. Following this, the first foreign production of the musical opened at the National Moravian-Silesian Theatre in the Czech Republic, also opening to favorable reviews.
Now, Flowers For Mrs Harris makes a return to the UK with it’s first London production opening at Riverside Studios. London audiences now have the chance to fall in love with Mrs Harris and experience this heartwarming musical, as it brings to life the touching story of an ordinary woman who embarks on an extraordinary journey of self-discovery and resilience.
For Ada Harris, day-to-day life is spent cleaning houses. But one day when she is working for a wealthy client in Belgravia, she happens upon a Dior dress that takes her breath away. In that magical moment, Ada has an epiphany and sets off on a journey that will change her life… From the cobbled streets of post-war London to the magical avenues of Paris and beyond, Ada transforms the lives of everyone she meets along the way, but can she let go of her past and finally let her own life blossom?
Flowers For Mrs Harris is a lovely ensemble piece with actors playing multiple characters. As Albert Harris and Marquis de Chassagne, Hal Fowler was utterly charming. Albert’s love for Russell’s Ada shone in the hands of Fowler and his Marquis de Chassagne was every bit the handsome Parisian we needed. A lovely performance by a celebrated actor.
Kelly Price gave a memorable performance as the posh Lady Dant and strong Madame Colbert. As Lady Dant Price exuded pomp and British aristocracy and her Madame Colbert was a strong, independent woman with a heart of gold.
Charlotte Kennedy was both neurotic actress Pamela and elegant French model Natasha. Both characters were executed with Kennedy’s beautiful soprano which was such a treat. Annie Wensak is the perfect best friend as Violet and the character is so well written the audience is given lots of love in her wonderful performance.
Nathanael Campbell was brilliant as both Bob and Andre, displaying his talented tenor vocal throughout and David McKechnie was the perfect blend of cantankerous and big softy as Major. Pippa Winslow gives a delightful performance as Countess and her Sybill Sullivan is heartwarming. Ensemble members Issy Khogali, Richard Morse, Harry Singh and Abigail Williams were all fun in multiple characters adding to the magic of the show.
As our leading lady, Jenna Russell‘s Ada Harris is absolutely stunning. Giving a tour de force performance and barely leaving the stage, Russell handles the score beautifully with a heartfelt, emotional vocal that brings Ada Harris to life in a way that captivates and resonates with the audience, making her portrayal truly unforgettable.
Richard Taylor’s score for this show is quite remarkable. Staying away from typical verse-chorus structure, Taylor presents a score that’s mainly sung-through with completely conversational or reflective lyrics. It is the true definition of a musical theatre score that moves the story along through song and I’m not sure I’ve heard a score quite like it before which makes Flowers For Mrs Harris all the more magical. Nik Corrall’s set design is remarkably versatile on the wide Riverside
Studios stage and the audience is easily transported from Ada’s flat in Battersea to the enchanting cobbled streets of Paris. Similarly, Sara Perks costumes transport the audience with familiar pieces and beautifully designed dresses which seem to ooze old world charm. Adam King’s lighting design is expertly executed with the use of colour extremely well utilized which makes the Dior dresses and all the flowers dazzle even more. A small band is fabulously led by Jonathan Gill and Charlie Smith’s wonderful sound design means the audiences never misses a lyric or a beat of the music.
Feeling like a big warm hug, this production of Flowers For Mrs Harris is utterly delightful and lingers in your heart long after the final curtain call. The production really transports the audience into a world of charm and heart. From the stunning performances to the captivating storytelling, Flowers For Mrs Harris leaves you with a lingering sense of hope and a reminder of the beauty found in the simplest of dreams and acts of kindness.
Review by Stuart James