A tin of Quality Street is a mandatory part of Christmas traditions, and every year I delight in snapping off the lid and rummaging around for the golden, chewy Toffee Pennies.
There’s no sight quite as satisfyingly seasonal as the shiny, gem-like wrappers in a rainbow of colours glinting in the light of the Christmas tree. But have you ever wondered how this iconic confectionary got its name?
First manufactured by Mackintosh’s in Halifax, in 1936, the Nestle product that has become synonymous with the festive season was named after J. M. Barrie’s play – Quality Street.
And until March 25, you can watch the play that inspired the name of the colourful tin of chocolate at the New Vic Theatre, in Newcastle as part of a co-production with Northern Broadsides.
We’re first greeted by a team of factory workers – it almost feels like Ladies’ Day all over again, but instead of a fish factory, this time, we are transported to the Mackintosh factor]y, where five workers sat in white coats reminiscing their time producing Quality Street.
This sweet and sumptuous show was actually created with a team of retired workers from the Halifax factory, and the show’s characters really bring the story to life as they wrap up the action in their witty and outrageous observations.
The fast-paced period drama sees Phoebe Throssel, played by Coronation Street’s Paula Lane, and her sister, Susan, played by Louisa-May Parker (who also appeared in the soap) run a school for unruly children, which are portrayed by some rather disconcerting puppets.
The spinsters opened the school after beautiful ‘Phoebe of the Ringlets’ had expected the handsome Doctor Valentine Brown to ask for her hand in marriage, only to discover he was enlisting in the army to fight in the Napoleon war.
Upon his return a decade later, there is a look of disappointment on the Captain’s face when he greets an older, less glamorous Phoebe. In a bid to dupe the doctor, Phoebe reinvents herself as the wild and sparkling Miss Livvy – Phoebe and Susan’s niece – a younger alter-ego who soon beguiles the clueless Captain.
Quality Street really does take you through all of the emotions, from heartbreak to joy, the story is incredibly moving, and the character progression is very fun to watch. Phoebe transforms on stage from the smitten young woman into an ageing headmistress, turning back the clock as she becomes Livvy in a bid to rekindle her romance. She brilliantly navigates the juggling of her personas in a comical Mrs Doubtfire style, while trying to avoid scandalising nosy neighbours Fanny and Mary Willoughby with her deception, or wrecking her future with the man she loves.
Valentine Brown is sublimely portrayed by Aron Julius, who we saw previously in As You Like It. In fact, he almost looks like Regé-Jean Page from the Netflix hit show, Bridgerton, who plays the Duke, Simon Basset.
His character also develops admirably throughout the play, from a naive young soldier, to a man who has realised what is truly important in life. The emotional love story is lightened with laughter, even in the tender moments, with his quick wit and sarcasm. His rapport with Gilly Tompkins’ Patty – the housekeeper – was also heartwarming to watch.
The costumes and set are fun and vibrant, and I’m sure the plate turners amongst us didn’t fail to notice the finer details, such as the Wedgwood pot which sat on one of the side tables. Meanwhile the ball gowns were a glittering kaleidoscope of colour, just like looking into a tin of Quality Street. Jelani D’Aguilar, in particular, was a vision in yellow.
The original packaging of the chocolates even featured Captain Quality and Miss Sweet, in honour of Captain Brown and Miss Thrussel.
Written by the beloved writer of Peter Pan, Quality Street is a regency rom-com full of gossip and glamour that fans of Bridgerton will adore.
Quality Street takes to the stage at the New Vic until Saturday, March 25, 2023. Tickets are on sale now, priced from £20.00. For more information and to book call the Box Office on 01782 717962 or online at newvictheatre.org.uk.