“Quality Street is a comedy in four acts by J. M. Barrie, written before his more famous work Peter Pan. The story is about two sisters who start a school “for genteel children”.
The play opened on October 11, 1901, at the Valentine Theatre in Toledo, Ohio, and arrived in New York to play at the Knickerbocker Theatre on November 11, 1901, produced by Charles Frohman and starring Maude Adams, but ran for only a modestly successful 64 performances. It then opened at the Vaudeville Theatre in London on 17 September 1902 and ran for a very successful 459 performances, starring Ellaline Terriss, Seymour Hicks and Marion Terry, making it one of the first American productions to score a bigger triumph in London than in New York.
The piece enjoyed numerous revivals and tours until World War II. These included a 1913 revival at London’s Duke of York’s Theatre. A brief revival played in 1908 at the Empire Theatre in New York, starring Adams, and other revivals followed in America, at least into the 1920s.
In 2010, London’s Finborough Theatre mounted the first professional production of the piece in London in over six decades.
In 2020, Northern Broadsides performed the play at the Viaduct Theatre in Halifax, directed by Laurie Sansom, with the addition of commentary from present-day employees at the Quality Street chocolates factory, and toured to The Lowry, Salford; The Dukes, Lancaster; and the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, before closing due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The play was adapted twice for film; the first, in 1927 starred Marion Davies, and the second, in 1937, starred Katharine Hepburn. A musical theatre adaptation, Dear Miss Phoebe, written by Christopher Hassall and Harry Parr Davies, premiered in 1950.
The play was so popular that Quality Street chocolates and caramels were named after it, and the confectionery originally used characters from the play in their advertising and packaging. First manufactured by Mackintosh’s in Halifax, West Yorkshire, in 1936, they are today produced by Nestlé.
When Hicks and Terriss moved to a new home, The Old Forge at Merstham, Surrey, their cul-de-sac was renamed “Quality Street”.”