Before Peter Pan flew into the lives of the Darling children and indelibly cemented himself into the British consciousness, this spry Regency-set comedy was JM Barrie’s biggest stage hit. Once so popular it inspired the chocolate selection box of the same name, Quality Street has languished in the shadow of The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up for more than half a century but is currently enjoying something of a renaissance.
Revivals in recent years, at the Finborough (2010) and Pitlochry Festival Theatre (2018), have been followed by this enjoyably frothy and inventive production, adeptly chosen as the inaugural show by new Northern Broadsides artistic director Laurie Sansom.
The play’s links to the company’s hometown of Halifax are slightly spurious. The iconic chocolates have been made there since 1936 and the decision to incorporate retired factory workers as characters to bookend the action, talk about their past loves, comment on the plot and aid scene changes is a fun but largely unnecessary addition.
And that’s because the plot – in which a spinsterish school ma’am, through a set of sitcom-like contrivances, poses as her younger and more frivolous niece after her first love returns home from the Napoleonic Wars – holds up remarkably well.
The laughter builds as the events in Sansom’s well-modulated production turn increasingly farcical, but this is grounded by strong central performances from Jessica Baglow as Phoebe, switching effortlessly from loveless disappointment to kittenish glee as the menfolk begin to flock around her, and Louisa-May Parker, who is equally comically assured as the more sensible sister swept up in the deception.