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Flowers for Mrs Harris | Riverside Studios

Flowers for Mrs. Harris, directed by Branagh Lagan, is a wonderfully moving musical that soothes and delights its audience. Whilst appearing, on a surface level, to be about Mrs. Harris’s journey to buying her dream dress, the musical is so much more. It becomes a celebration of love, friendship, hope, perseverance and a reminder that kindness is key. Whilst the premise of the musical appears slightly superficial on a base level (Mrs. Harris deciding that she simply must have a Christian Dior dress, and working herself to the bone in order to afford it), it speaks volumes of human desire. It’s this story that allows a beautiful unraveling of these threads, until she (and we) find our place in a tightly woven embroidery, that is the society that we live in. 

West End legend Jenna Russell does a majestic job, reminding everyone why she is one of musical theatre's greatest. As title character ‘Ada Harris’, it’s lovely to see her grace the stage in every scene, and whisk us away into her world. Her portrayal of kind, caring and determined Mrs. Harris is incredible, and we’re really able to connect with her. She oozes warmth and joy alongside a dash of mischievousness on stage, and this helps the audience really come to love and root for her. Annie Wensak as Violet Butterfield (Mrs. Harris’s best friend) is a riot to watch, and provides the musical with a much more emotionally driven character. Her blunt honesty, matched with her wit, makes for some particularly hilarious moments. Yet it’s the untreatable friendship and bond between her and Mrs. Harris that carries the most emotional weight, and left me wishing that everyone could have that special friend in their lives. 

Nathanael Campbell as Bob/André and Charlotte Kennedy as Pamela/Natasha, both glow in their roles. They shine as individual characters, but are even more of a delight to watch as a tender love blossoms between them. Hal Fowler (playing Albert Harris and Marquis de Chassagne) has an exceptionally wonderful voice, and becomes the musical’s emotional anchor. His character both grounds the show and elevates it, by stirring up emotions every time he is on stage. 

The musical numbers (Richard Taylor and Rachel Wagstaff) are lovely to listen to, all made even better by excellent and subtle choreography and movement, slipped into the story and rarely drawing particular attention to them. Whilst this is an interesting and clever approach, it also resulted in the songs not having the time or momentum to shine, and thus unfortunately didn't stand out. The ensemble numbers are done well, with various characters overlapping, and the flurry of movement this provides are great to watch. These songs, along with a couple of other solo songs, remind me of Sondheim’s “Into The Woods” with the style of the ensemble and narrative lyrics.

Act two is set in both London and Paris and it’s been designed to feel as though it’s a parallel world. With all the actors (except Jenna Russell) playing dual roles, the script can’t help but occasionally poke fun at itself with smaller comments. The French characters are so lively and rich, and surprisingly have more time to grow and complete their character arcs, and this is such a refreshing and lively world of distinctive characters. The set is a running work of art by Nik Corrall, and manages to create a beautiful close knit community. The lines of drying clothes in the background, helps to both layer to the set and also serve as a reminder of the world where Mrs. Harris resides in.

The show, surprisingly, uses a revolving set, which helps with seamless scene transitions. A massive moment of appreciation to costume designer (Sara Perks) and movement director (Anjali Mehta) for creating a breath-taking dress showing. By questioning and breaking the barriers of the elite, we’re able to feast our eyes and be transported to a colourful new world, and finally understand why Mrs. Harris has sought this out. A shoutout to dress designer and team (Lez Brotherston and Sheffield Theatres Wardrobe Department) for creating dresses that were stunning. 

The flower metaphors are a constant throughout the musical, with a colourful and thoughtfully written variety of characters. All of whom are wilting without Mrs. Harris’s constant care, love and attention. She becomes the symbolic copper coin, the under appreciated but invaluable presence, that revives them and helps them thrive. It’s also the planting of her small acts of kindness, that result in a beautiful culmination of love, support, friendship, appreciation and fullness in her life. The musical’s climax is such a beautiful moment, but I recommend bringing your own tissues.


{AD | Gifted} | Photography by Pamela Raith


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