Review: Quality Street. Royal and Derngate Northampton

This Quality Street play doesn’t quite match the tin. I walk in expecting a history lesson within a period piece, but instead I am tossed into a love story full of characters I can’t help but adore. However, I was also expecting a comedy, and the feeling I got realising this play’s idea of funny was comparable to opening the tin to find there were no Orange Cremes left.

This storyline follows the romance between Captain Valentine Brown and Phoebe Throssel. When Mr Brown comes back from a war, he fails to recognise the woman he left behind almost a decade ago as she’s nearing the old age of 30, (I know, 30!) which sends Phoebe into a state of madness. In an attempt to recreate her youthful excitement and beauty, she creates an alter ego ,Miss Livvy, a younger reflection of herself. She gets to attend balls she always avoided, while keeping her livelihood as a school teacher, but soon realises it’s a struggle to keep up two lives, especially when that entails lying to the man she loves.

Aron Julius (Mr Brown) and Paula Lane (Phoebe) do an exceptional job at creating a theatrical approach to the story, and effortlessly create undeniable chemistry between their characters. This is particularly done well as they argue over Mr Brown’s love for Phoebe, whilst Phoebe is being her alter ego. His need to defend her and her need to degrade herself despite his devotion provides new levels of depth to their characters and relationship, which make this love story intriguing. Their actions alone show deep devotion for each other, despite the less-than-perfect scriptwriting that didn’t give them much to work with at various points.

Many of the other actors must also be commended for their incredible work. Alicia McKenzie, Gilly Tompkins and Jelani D’Aguilar have the audience in stitches with one-liners a-plenty, executing impressive comedic delivery with relevant references. While I appreciate the attempt at modernising some of the play’s jokes, these are the ones that fell flat and had me questioning the “comedy” part.  They pretty much consisted of the overused “modern love is so bad these days, ha ha, Love Island, we know what a WhatsApp is” which feels out of place and forces a self-awareness that is not necessary. It’s also slightly ironic as the male love interest doesn’t commit to his “true love” until a decade on either, so it feels like a bit of a cheap shot put in last minute. Therefore, compliments must be made to casting director Sarah Hughes for finding a cast capable of making this play enjoyable.

On a more positive note, the set itself is subtle, but impressive. The lighting design, by Joe Price, is incredible throughout the dance scenes, with purple glows that match Phoebe’s dress. Although with her delightful dancing, we hardly need the reminder than she is the main character. The set is equally well-done, as while there are only two settings, the props make for clear differences between the two. The costume design is accurate to its time, with its signature piece being Captain Brown’s exquisite army uniform.

Overall, the actors clearly do an impressive job of making the story enticing. I think the shortcoming of this play for me is simply the script. I could appreciate the love story, even if it was from a different time, however the play’s indecision on whether or not to make it modern felt like a mockery to their original authentic angle. Aside from it’s faults, there are still quite a few funny moments. All things considered, I don’t believe I am the target audience as some references are geared towards an older generation, who can sit with their long-term lover and reminisce.

Quality Street runs at Royal and Derngate until 8th April

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