Quality Street at The Lowry Manchester Review

25-29 February 2020

Reviewed by Ann Durrell

They are the nations favourite (don’t tell Cadbury’s Roses) and a staple at Christmas, I mean is it really Christmas at all without a tin of Quality Street. Have you ever wondered though, how did John Mackintosh (later Rowntree Mackintosh, now Nestle) decide to come up with the name for their mixed tin of chocolate delights? They were in fact named after a play of the same name by J.M Barrie which he wrote before Peter Pan. So hugely popular was the play at the time originally the chocolates used characters from the play in their wrappers and packaging. The play was widely revived up until the end of the second world war, adapted for two films, the latter of which starred Katharine Hepburn, and there was also a musical theatre performance.

This brand new revival for 2020 by Northern Broadsides is the first production by Laurie Sansom since taking the role of Artistic Director in June 2019. The production blends the modern day with the original dialogue bringing a new twist to this mainly forgotten classic romcom.

With simple staging we first to the stage are 21st century factory workers, all describing their working lives in the Mackintosh factory. The sole clue of the play to come in a character in period costume sat knitting at a desk in a corner. As the characters chat, they mention the play and it soon becomes clear that they are referring to Quality Street, the play that gave one of the factory’s most famous products its name. As they leave or transform into different attire we are taken back to the Napoleonic wars-period and meet the residents of Quality Street, Halifax.

The story centre’s around Phoebe and Susan Throssel who live on Quality Street. Phoebe is the younger of the two sisters and is hopeful that her suitor Valentine Brown is about to ask for her hand. Little does she know that he has in fact enlisted and instead of the proposal she is expecting, it is news that he is leaving. Worse still, the sisters on the advice of Mr Brown invested half of their money into a failed investment and with no proposal and no money are forced to open a school to pay their way. Fast forward 10 years and the now Captain Brown returns from the war, he goes to visit his old friends and finds Phoebe weary and sullen, gone is the bright young girl with ringlets, replaced with a stern self-proclaimed old maid of 30. Of course, he makes the mistake of innocently commenting how she has changed, and Phoebe is livid believing he is being superficial. Phoebe throws off her dowdy clothes and transforms into ‘Livvy’ who she and Susan pass off as their young, flirtatious and fun-loving niece, to try and get revenge on Captain Brown. But is the Captain really so fickle that he will chase after Phoebe’s alter ego or has he realised that it is more than just admiration he has for Phoebe?

Jessica Baglow is brilliant as Phoebe, transforming from the dowdy school ma’am back into ‘Livvy’ who captivates seemingly any man who sets sights upon her. Dario Coates as the dashing young Valentine Brown, later more serious on his return from war is also very believable in the role. The entire cast gave a fun, engaging and watchable performance throughout.

I really enjoyed the twist of old and new, I thought it worked well. I enjoyed hearing tales of the factory, how the workers enjoyed being placed in the ‘nut house’ as the work was short and they spent their time dying each other’s hair instead! It’s obvious how much background has gone into the production and the stories came from interviews with factory workers during the company’s research for their idea. What I also like about Northern Broadsides productions as you learn to expect the unexpected. The use of puppetry in the play brings a fun and playful comedy value. All together it is a thoroughly enjoyable play, one not to miss.

Rating: 5/5

Tickets cost from £18 (booking fees may apply).

Quality Street is at The Lowry in Manchester from 25-29 February 2020, for more information or to book tickets visit or call the box office on 0843 208 6000.

The Lowry, Pier 8, Salford Quays, Manchester, M50 3AZ | 0843 208 6000

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