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Flowers For Mrs Harris – Chichester Festival Theatre Cast Recording

Having seen the Chichester Festival Theatre run of the Crucible Theatre Sheffield’s production of Flowers For Mrs Harris, there’s often so much to look at on stage that it is considerably easier to sit and appreciate the music and lyrics in this cast recording without the visual elements of the production to take in at the same time. Ada Harris (Clare Burt), true to her character, an old-school grafter, has her work cut out, featuring in all but one of the twenty-three musical numbers in a recording where the songs more often than not drive forward the narrative.

Flowers For Mrs HarrisThis recording came across as more lively and spirited than it was when I saw the show in its full glory: not that the full production wasn’t lively and spirited, but I suppose when a cast reconvenes after what has now become known as Lockdown One, there are a whole bunch of actors and musicians who hadn’t performed (apart from, perhaps, a few streamed concerts at home) for some months. The energy is palpable from the first minute.

The songs are largely melodic: closer to Stephen Sondheim than Jerry Herman, it’s not exactly an album with jazz hands and dancing galore. It’s not a sung-through musical, so the liner notes will come in handy for anyone who hasn’t seen the show (and a useful reminder, nonetheless, for those who have). The show is set in both London and Paris, which sees the rest of the cast double up as British and French characters respectively. The penultimate number, ‘Flowers (Something For You)’, covering both locations, even has more characters than there are actors. I can’t comment, alas, on the authenticity of the French accents, or indeed the pronunciation of actual French dialogue (which doesn’t affect one’s understanding of the storyline, I hasten to add), suffice to say they certainly aren’t portrayed here for laughs.

It’s easy to invest in Harris’ journey – ‘journey’ in both the literal and figurative sense. Going from London to Paris may be (quarantine controls in a global pandemic aside) as straightforward as boarding a train these days, but in 1950 it took some planning, especially for somebody like Mrs Harris, who finds herself getting a passport to go abroad for the first time, and everything else she hadn’t experienced before, from currency exchange to declaring goods at customs. The journey, as told in these musical numbers, is riddled with obstacles. One of the songs is even called ‘The Pound Devalues’, a reference to the 1949 devaluation by the Labour government.

Perhaps the point about saving up for something is slightly laboured. Then again, maybe it is a message contemporary society needs to hear, when credit is so easily available. Heavy with storytelling, the recording is best listened to in much the same way a singer-songwriter’s album would be, whole and entire, from beginning to end. The cast’s harmonies in the larger ensemble numbers are a delight, giving much texture and nuance to the songs.

Mark Meadows provides a calm and reassuring presence as Albert, while the frankness and warmth (in equal measure) that emanates from Claire Machin’s Violet Butterfield makes the recording all the more engaging. Laura Pitt-Pulford’s Pamela, meanwhile, is on paper thoroughly dislikeable, but there are some redeeming qualities in someone who acts carelessly, but ultimately without malice.

In many ways, this cast recording is very timely, particularly in the final moments when Harris concludes that, in the end, friendships and good health are of paramount importance – something as relevant to us in 2020 as it was for Mrs Harris in 1950. A poignant and heart-warming listen.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

1. All I Ever Needed
2. Lady Dant
3. There Is More To Life
4. Clients #1 (Look At Me)
5. Something To Come Home To
6. Rain On Me
7. Clients #2
8. The Pools Win
9. Mrs Harris Does A Budget
10. Clients #3
11. The Pound Devalues
12. Albert’s Watch
13. End Of Act One

1. 30, Avenue Montaigne
2. The Dress-Showing
3. She Kissed Me!
4. The Girl In The Magazine
5. Dressmaking
6. Customs (A Fib, Not A Lie)
7. Returning Home/Visiting Pamela
8. 5, Willis Gardens
9. Flowers (Something For You)
10. The Garden Of Eden

Released 3rd December 2020 – Catalogue No: SimGR-CD038

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