Do you want to know more about what J.M. Barrie’s Quality Street is all about? Maybe you’d like to know what you’re getting yourself into before you book your ticket. Or maybe you just love spoiling things for yourself! Whatever your reason for being here, grab yourself a cuppa and let us tell you the story of Quality Street.

The plot below is from the original play by J.M. Barrie, but in our version, we mix in a commentary between acts from five retired workers of the Halifax chocolate factory, who tell us what they make of the whole thing.

Spoilers ahead!

Act 1 - The Blue and White Room

Sisters Phoebe and Susan Throssel live in a small house on Quality Street, in the centre of a bustling Northern town. They sit with Fanny and Mary (their gossipy neighbours) knitting garments for soldiers in a blue and white room. They are dishing the dirt about a rumour spreading throughout the town; a gentleman of the town has enlisted to go and fight in the Napoleonic Wars! But who could it be? A recruiting sergeant walks by and confirms the rumour.

Phoebe tells Susan that Valentine Brown (a suave and sophisticated doctor) recently teased that he wanted to tell her something important whilst they were out walking together. Phoebe had invited Valentine to come to the house to tell her. The ladies conclude that this can be literally nothing else but an offer for her hand in marriage. Susan even gives Phoebe a wedding gown in anticipation, that she had meant for her own wedding.

Phoebe then tells Susan that Valentine had previously advised the sisters to invest half of their savings, a venture which failed, and left them with only sixty pounds a year. Their money has been lost. This marriage was the answer – it would allow him to take responsibility for their welfare! Phoebe planned to tell Valentine of the loss of the money right after he proposes.

But to Phoebe’s humiliation and dread, Valentine Brown said nothing of marriage.

Instead, he told them that he was the man who had enlisted. Worse still, he gave no indication of love for Phoebe, who does not mention the failed investment. This is goodbye.

Phoebe plans to start a new venture of her own, to start a little school for genteel children, and she would be the schoolmistress. We do not see the sisters again for ten years.

Act 2 - The School

Ten years later, on a day in August, the blue and white room has become a grim and unruly schoolhouse, where Miss Phoebe and Miss Susan are secretly scared of the children they teach, especially the older boys. Phoebe is not what she once was: the light has gone from her eyes, and when the children are not looking at her, we know she has the headache.

The children are played by puppets operated by the actors, and they are learning a dance.

One of the children, Isabella, tells Phoebe that her father would like her to learn algebra. Phoebe dies a little inside, knowing this is beyond her abilities. Arthur, another student, has been in a fight with a boy from the street but Phoebe cannot bring herself to cane the boy.

At last, the wars are over and there is a celebratory ball planned for that very night.

Captain Valentine Brown is ushered into what was the blue and white room by Patty, a maid. He has lost his left hand in the war and has come to call on his old friends.

He is disappointed to see the blue and white room changed, not to mention the difference in Phoebe’s appearance. She has not worn well, but Valentine intends to pursue his old life on Quality Street once again. Phoebe would hate him, were it not for his poor hand.

Patty shows in two visitors, Charlotte Parratt and Ensign Blades (a young man who used to be taught by Phoebe and Susan). Ensign Blades invites Phoebe to the ball, but she declines as she believes that he wishes to make sport of her. Valentine’s eyes light up when he sees Charlotte, who is charming, ladylike and beautiful.

When everyone leaves, Susan and Patty inspire Phoebe to go to the ball and to become the Phoebe that she was ten years ago, no longer an old maid, but ‘bright, thoughtless and merry’. She puts on the wedding gown from Act 1, her ringlets are glorious, her face flushed and animated.

Soon Valentine re-enters the room again, he fails to recognise Phoebe, and Patty tells him that she was the sisters’ niece and that Phoebe has a headache. Charmed by ‘Miss Livvy’, Valentine asks her to accompany him to the ball. ‘Livvy’ teases him about his grey hairs.

Valentine mentions his new date to the gossipy neighbours, Mary and Fanny, who are suspicious that somethings is not quite right. They are on to Phoebe. They have no suspicion as yet of what Phoebe has done; but they believe there is a scandal in the Throssel family, and they will not sleep happily until they know what it is.


Act 3 - The Ball

This is the third ball in the victory celebrations, and the scene is set in an arbour in the garden. Phoebe has been keeping up the lie about being Miss Livvy. Susan and Charlotte are sat outside the party by the shrubbery, grumpy because nobody will dance with them. Meanwhile, ‘Livvy’ continues to capture the attention of all the young men of the town, including Ensign Blades, Spicer and Valentine Brown.

Mary and Fanny catch Phoebe and Susan talking outside the party, just as they agree that they must put a stop to the ‘Livvy’ lie. Fanny tells them that she thought that Livvy was the same person as Phoebe. Phoebe denys this, uttering a cry of reproach, and they apologise. But they don’t fully believe her. 

Later that night, Captain Brown tells ‘Livvy’ of his love for Phoebe, and confesses that he fell in love with ‘Livvy’ because of her resemblance to the old Phoebe. He then realises that he is also growing older, and after all, he prefers the ‘real Phoebe’: the retiring, tired, quiet school teacher.

Act 4 - The Blue and White Room Again

After the frivolities, it is now the school holidays and the blue and white room has returned. It is a familiar scene, though it’s a ghost of what it once was. Phoebe has once again donned her school mistress’s gown and hidden her curls under the cap. Patty ushers in Mary, who has come to see how Phoebe is doing, also asking after Livvy. Charlotte and Fanny also come to call on Phoebe, who realises more than ever that her friends are suspicious.

Valentine arrives, having heard that Livvy is indisposed. He asks to see her, Phoebe tells him it is impossible and she is too unwell. As Phoebe ‘retires to bed’, Valentine tells Patty that he knows that Phoebe has been Livvy the whole time.

Valentine carries on the masquerade when ‘Livvy’ comes out from her sick bed and announces her recovery, confusing the gossipy sisters.

The sisters are stupefied when he offered to take “Livvy” to her home twenty miles away. Valentine creates a fake Livvy with pillows and a shawl which he carries out to a waiting coach, to the satisfaction of the gossips who are watching from their windows.

Phoebe, now somewhat bewildered and confused about who she really is, is relieved to find that Livvy has been gotten rid of for good.

In the final moments of the play, Valentine asks for Phoebe’s hand in marriage. She accepts, but only after making sure that he knows who she really is.