Making a dramatic property based on a book into a musical can sometimes be hit and miss, whatever the quality of the source material or the best intention of the adaptor. I recall seeing The Go-Between back in 2016, which also had music and lyrics by Richard Taylor, but which didn’t quite take flight.
Here, Taylor turns his efforts to the tale of Ada Harris (Clare Burt), a cleaner from the industrial heart of Britain who dreams of owning a Dior dress. With a book by Rachel Wagstaff, the novel by Paul Galico, Flowers For Mrs Harris, comes into sharp relief and proves a perfect candidate for screening. It is filmed exceptionally well by The Other Richard.
When we first meet her, Mrs Harris is in a simple kitchen with husband Albert, in a set by Lez Brotherston highlighting the flickering windows of terraces and the smoke from mill chimneys. She is a plain but steely woman, a dreamer at her dining table.
The score proves to be rich with lyrical flourishes and lush melodies befitting this fairytale of fashion, with its act two parade and charming prince of Paris (Mark Meadows, like all cast members bar Burt playing two roles).
Directed by Daniel Evans with a definite command of time and space: a revolve, a staircase, and a stage lit beautifully by Mark Henderson, Flowers for Mrs Harris proves a successful subject for musicalisation.
Joanna Riding, Laura Pitt-Pulford, Gary Wilmot and Louis Maskell all bring the comedy and pathos of both story and characters to life, but this is Burt’s show, however ridiculous her plot trajectory might be.
When I think of Angela Lansbury playing the same role on TV in the non-musical Mrs ‘Arris Goes To Paris, her take was very different, but they are both as valid. Burt’s Mrs Harris has set her heart on that designer dress, and in her ordinary way, she will drift through the lives of others in true fairy godmother style.
Filmed at the Chichester Festival Theatre in 2018, this production is streaming for free until the 8 May. You can access it, plus supplementary materials and a link to make a donation, at the theatre website.
Production photo in the header by Johan Persson.