SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER
by Oliver Goldsmith.
Northern Broadsides Tour to 13 December 2014.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 25 September at Oxford Playhouse.
The comedy could speak for itself.
Even with far fewer theatres in 18th-century London than in the modern city it’s surprising they presented so few plays that are revived. The later decades present only Richard Sheridan’s comedies The Rivals and The School for Scandal, and this from Sheridan’s fellow Irishman Oliver Goldsmith.
Goldsmith’s other play is The Good-Natur’d Man, which could apply here. The deception involved in the title strategy, whereby young Kate Hardcastle gets her man by pretending to be a servant in her own family house, is used benevolently to override male bashfulness, while the trickery of Tony Lumpkin is neutralised by his evident simplicity. His chief victim, his mother Mrs Hardcastle, has done her own cheating before the action starts, but even she’s mainly guilty of foolishly indulging Tony.
Hardcastle is chiefly guilty of being a bore, going-on about military history and his own life, but his shock at his visitors’ rudeness as they take him for a garrulous innkeeper, not realising where they are (another Lumpkin trick), more than redresses any minor fault, while his compromise with his daughter, which enables her to dress like a servant at times, is part of his accommodating character.
Goldsmith chooses Kate as the person whose initiative gives a human point to his mechanism of misunderstandings. And Hannah Edwards, with Lauryn Redding as her friend and confidante Constance Neville, comes closest to conveying the humanity of her character in Conrad Nelson’s production. Elsewhere, actors seem to want to persuade us it’s all very funny not through their characters but by external gesture and mannerism. The result often falls flat, with more laughs on stage than in the audience.
And Jessica Worrall’s set, at first sight apt and inviting in rural autumnal colours, soon comes to seem both inconvenient and false, as if set on display in a department store. If the effort put into self-conscious jollity had gone into making Goldsmith’s characters, rather than Nelson’s performers, create the comedy, this would have been much more satisfying. As it is, Alan McMahon’s cross-dressed beanpole servant, being so thoroughly artificial, is the most apt in this imposed artificiality.
Sir Charles Marlow: Andrew Price.
Marlow: Oliver Gomm.
Hardcastle: Howard Chadwick.
Hastings: Guy Lewis.
Tony Lumpkin: Jon Trenchard.
Diggory: Andrew Whitehead.
Jack Slang/Thomas: Robert Took.
Mrs Tompkins: Gilly Tompkins.
Kate Hardcastle: Hannah Edwards.
Constance Neville: Lauryn Redding.
Pimple: Alan McMahon.
Director: Conrad Nelson.
Designer: Jessica Worrall.
Lighting: Mark Howland.
Musical Director: Rebekah Hughes.
Choreographer: Matthew Bugg.