Quality Street

Alex Walsh 4 March 2010

Pembroke New Cellars – 7.30pm Tues 2nd-Sat 6th March 2010

2/5

Quality Street should delight you if you are gratified by bonnets, britches, parlour rooms, petits soucis and high jinks arising from disguise. The action unfolds in the parlour of a house in a small village. The first half reveals a pair of sisters wracked by all the problems that haunt an Austen heroine; lack of marriage proposals, diminishing funds and small town gossip. Persuasion’s model reigns supreme as mutual love goes undeclared. The hero, Valentine Brown (Tom Ovens) goes off to war and returns ten years later a successful officer while heroine, Miss Phoebe (Caitlin Doherty) abandons all hope relegating herself to spinsterhood and running a dowdy school.

You may find yourself thinking, at the start, that J.M. Barrie’s play is a Restoration style farce but, in reality, this play finds itself in a confusing situation somewhere between satire and sincerity. Nonetheless, although it took a little while to emerge, the production’s strength lies in the comedy that its lead actors managed to draw out in the second half.

Before the post-interval success emerges, this production does not make J.M. Barrie’s choice of genre particularly clear. Is this a satire or a homage and who exactly are we meant to be laughing at? The titillation of Miss Phoebe and her sister parodies the angst of the Old Maid archetype. Likewise, the chivalry of the Mr Brown sends up the brooding, but ultimately loyal hero: Mr Brown is ever so keen to establish himself as ‘dashing’! In these satirical roles Doherty and Ovens are very funny but, having established themselves as comic characters it’s difficult for the audience to sympathise with Miss Phoebe’s withering heart.

The return to farce in the second half is very welcomed. Showcasing Ovens’ seasoned character as a fusty buffoon it is competently and pleasingly delivered. The competition between petulant suitors provides a handful of sharp lines. There was perhaps a little too much “trembling, fluttering and spasm-ing” from a breathy Doherty, but generally her bright and energetic character capably lead this pleasant Austen am-dram which is a must for those with a lust for petticoats and quaint speech.

Alex Walsh