SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER
by Oliver Goldsmith.
Olivier Theatre Upper Ground South Bank SE1 9PX In rep to 21 April 2012.
Runs 2hr 50min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7452 3000.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 19 February.
Stooping to easy laughs, a production that bludgeons rather than conquers the comedy.
Warmest of the small number of regularly revived 18th-century comedies, Oliver Goldsmith’s ‘Mistakes of a Night’ largely stays home with the Hardcastles. Which would suit Mr Hardcastle, a home-loving gentleman content with his provincial life, wife and traditional ways. Yet he’s as kindly as the author himself in making gentle fun of Mrs Hardcastle’s interest in fashion.
And with young Kate Hardcastle, who reconciles youthful tastes with her father’s wishes by wearing finery in mornings and plain dresses at evening. Easygoing tempers are the order of She Stoops to Conquer’s day.
A massive fireplace and the wall around it in Mark Thompson’s design near-overwhelm characters (perhaps it’s no coincidence the two most successful scenes are the ones set elsewhere). Alas, Jamie Lloyd’s production does the same with Goldsmith’s play.
To start there’s a musical chorus, which keeps reappearing with near-surrealist irrelevance. Delightful thought their choric bursts and pan-bashing percussion are, and while they give a large chorus of servant-playing actors something to do, they hardly contribute to the world of the play.
Enjoyably irrelevant interludes are one thing; overlaying a finely-formed comedy with excessive, character-threatening, acting is another. At best, in Sophie Thompson’s Mrs Hardcastle, there’s some point to the attempt to speak to London gentleman in an affected accent, which takes the scenic route as it commutes between country and Town.
But whatever the momentary laughs provided by London visitors Marlow and Hastings, their clownish exaggeration acts like a landslide obscuring the play’s human territory. Less virulent but still unhelpful are Katherine Kelly’s cute gestures, while it’s an abandonment of character and decorum for her to sit legs astride the furniture like the bar-room strumpet she’d abhor, to catch Marlow’s attention.
There are a few more appropriate moments, like Hardcastle doubling-up when a servant prompts memory of a favourite old joke. And David Fynn’s Tony, the character in whom excess would be most appropriate, has a natural-seeming jollity, while his realisation he is free of bourgeois tedium and can go to Bet Bouncer is a rare moment of comic truth. If only there were more amid the theatrical overkill.
Mr Hardcastle: Steve Pemberton.
Mrs Hardcastle: Sophie Thompson.
Tony Lumpkin: David Fynn.
Kate Hardcastle: Katherine Kelly.
Constance Neville: Cush Jumbo.
Landlord/William: Gavin Spokes.
Marlow: Harry Hadden-Paton.
Hastings: John Heffernan.
Bet Bouncer/Pimple: Amy Booth-Steel.
Diggory: Oliver Jackson.
Douglas/Jeremy: Matthew Seadon-Young.
Sir Charles Marlow: Timothy Speyer.
Dick Muggines/Mark: Stavros Demetraki.
Thonas: Terry Doe.
Roger: Jonathan Glew.
Bridget: Sarah Moyle.
Phyllis: Zoë Rainey.
Jack Slang/Paul: Russell Wilcox.
Director: Jamie Lloyd.
Designer: Mark Thompson.
Lighting: Neil Austin.
Sound/Music: Ben & Max Ringham.
Music Arranger/Music Director: David Shrubsole.
Movement: Ann Yee.
Company Voice work: Jeannette Nelson.
Dialect coach: Kate Godfrey.
Associate sound: Matt Berry.