Riverside Studios show review: Flowers for Mrs Harris, a heart-warming ode to kindness and dreams

In Bronagh Lagan’s enchanting production of Flowers for Mrs Harris, the enduring potency of simple kindness and decency takes centre stage. While the show’s initial act meticulously establishes its characters, patient theatregoers are richly rewarded with a profoundly touching second act that lingers long after the curtains fall.

Jenna Russell’s portrayal of Ada Harris, the eponymous cleaner, is nothing short of brilliant. Her poignant chemistry with Annie Wensack, who plays the character of Violet Butterfield, and with Hal Fowler, who embodies her late husband and, in the second act, an ageing French aristocrat, is truly moving. While Nik Corrall’s set design is dynamic and nostalgic, it’s Sara Perks’ costume creations — especially the iconic red dress — that steal the spotlight.

Flowers For Mrs Harris runs at Riverside Studios christian dior red dress

Photo credit: Pamela Raith

While Richard Taylor’s music and lyrics may not reinvent the wheel, the exceptional performances and timeless production values elevate the show’s allure. Harry Singh’s vivacious versatility in multiple roles infuses the production with an infectious energy.

Set against the post-World War Two backdrop, the narrative follows Ada Harris and Violet Butterfield, two widowed working-class women thrust into a whimsical adventure involving a Christian Dior dress. Jenna Russell’s nuanced portrayal of Ada imbues the character with both strength and delicate fragility.

The ensemble cast seamlessly transitions between characters from Ada’s life in Battersea to those in Paris, delivering a truly outstanding performance. Hal Fowler’s portrayal of Ada’s late husband, Albert, exudes sensitivity, while Charlotte Kennedy’s rendition of Parisian model Natasha is a breathtaking testament to humanity. Annie Wensak’s Violet injects a skilfully precise comic touch.

Flowers For Mrs Harris Riverside Studios brochure

The brochure to the show is well made and includes lovely sketches of the costume design

Though the Riverside Studios setting may feel slightly confined, the exquisite Dior gowns by Lez Brotherston and the delightful 6-piece band led by Jonathan Gill contribute to the production’s allure.

Ultimately, Flowers for Mrs Harris stands as Jenna Russell’s triumph. Her portrayal of Ada Harris is arguably the most exquisite seen in recent memory. The show is a modern-day fairy tale celebrating genuine class, kindness, love, and the process of healing from loss. It exudes the charm and essence of classical old-school musicals like Mayfair Lady and stands as a testament to the enduring power of dreams. This is a magnificent piece of contemporary theatre, offering an enchanting evening’s entertainment. You can also watch the slightly different movie version of this story, Mrs Harris goes to Paris, but the live entertainment offers an immersive experience.

Living in the Barnes area, attending shows at Riverside Studios is an absolute delight. ‘Flowers for Mrs. Harris’ was a true gem, leaving me yearning for more productions of its calibre. Why venture to the West End for theatre and musicals when our local scene is this remarkable and budget-friendly? I’ve been a devoted supporter of Riverside Studios for a quarter-century, cherishing it as a hidden treasure. The backdrop of Hammersmith Bridge, particularly at sunset, adds an enchanting touch to the experience. This venue truly holds a special place in my heart.

Flowers For Mrs Harris runs at Riverside Studios until 25 November 2023. Tickets available from here.

 

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