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The Theatreguide.London Review

Quality Street
Finborough Theatre      November-December 2010

J. M.Barrie's delightful little comedy is lovely, whimsical and sweet - and if those adjectives are beginning to make you gag, I have to acknowledge that Barrie's whimsy is not for all moods.

Unless you come with an openness to its charms, it can prove as cloying as a full box of the sweets that took their name from this very play.

But director Louise Hill, who proved herself earlier this year with Barrie's What Every Woman Knows at the Finborough, has exactly the right lightness of touch and sensitivity to the play's delicate balance of sweet and tart, making the evening a total delight for all but the most whimsyphobic.

An early-19th-century schoolmistress, prematurely worn and aged by her work, discovers that merely by changing her clothes and freshening up her hairdo she can pass as her own niece and get to play the flirt and coquette she never was.

She has a darker purpose as well, to flirt with the man she once had a crush on and who recently commented on how much she had aged, to masochistically prove to herself that he'll fall for the silly niece and thus show himself unworthy of the torch she's been carrying.

But there are, of course, comic complications to the scheme. For one thing, the man proves less shallow than she had expected, which she isn't prepared for.

Meanwhile, she has to live the Charlie's Aunt farce of trying to be two people at once, and then has to face the problem of how to kill off one or the other of her identities.

All of this is played with real fun by Louise Hill's cast, especially Claire Redcliffe as niece and aunt, making the one such a delightful flirt that you understand why all the other men fall for her, and the other so sympathetic that you keep hoping for her to win the competition with herself.

James Russell is appropriately dashing as the man who learns to recognise the real attractiveness of a real woman, and Daisy Ashford warmly comic as the sister in on the masquerade but increasingly out of her depth as its complications mount.

And not least among the play's pleasures are the roles and performances of the supporting cast, particularly the gossiping ladies of the town, who create the world of the play perfectly in an opening scene that has them giggling over men exactly as modern 10-year-olds might.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Quality Street - Finborough  Theatre 2010


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