Christopher Walker reviews Flowers for Mrs Harris

Novels are made into movies or Netflix series, and increasingly into musicals.

Largely because American audiences find this their preferred way to consume literature.

In London this is having a major effect, with high priced West End musicals pulling in dollar-rich tourists at inflated prices.

Meanwhile the Fringe, and most especially straight drama aimed at local audiences, is struggling.

Flowers for Mrs Harris at the Riverside Studios fringe venue is therefore a case of “if you can’t beat them, join them.”

It is a suitably saccharine piece with mixed appeal, not least because the villain of the piece is an American tourist.

Annie Wensak (left) and Jenna Russell (right) Photography by Pamela Raith

The original story, Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris (note the dropped ‘H’) is a novel by American Paul Gallico, published as Flowers for Mrs Harris in the UK.

It was the first of four books about the adventures of a London charwoman.

Ada Harris is a kind hearted cleaning lady from Battersea whose life is transformed by the sight of a new Christian Dior dress in a Belgravia wardrobe.

She determines to earn the extra £450 required to go to Paris and buy a Dior dress. Something that takes over two years.

It’s a simple tale of good triumphing over evil, brought to life by an outstanding performance by Jenna Russell, of Guys and Dolls fame.

Left to right Pippa Winslow, Charlotte Kennedy, Annie Wensak, Jenna Russell, Hal Fowler, Nathanael Campbell, David McKechnie. Photography by Pamela Raith

She has the audience in her hands, with the help of Annie Wensak as bosom buddy Violet.

There is a lot about the harshness of life for working class women of Ada and Violet’s generation, although the historical accuracy of the piece is all over the place.

Ada gives her clothing rations to a client which anchors the piece as pre-1949.

Yet Marilyn Monroe is talked about though she was unheard of until the 1950s, and at one point Ada listens to several transistor radios, not common until the 1960s.

Strangely for a contemporary musical there is a sad lack of tunes. But whilst the first half proceeds slowly, by the end of the show there’s not a dry eye in the House.

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