SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER
by Oliver Goldsmith.
Theatre by the Lake In rep to 8 November 2013.
Runs 2hr 50min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 31 October.
Genial, if fussy, production of a genial comedy.
Alongside 1940s farce See How They Run Theatre by the Lake has artfully programmed Oliver Goldsmith’s warm-hearted comedy of rural life. The 18th-century comedy has elements of farcical mechanism, notably the cross-purpose device whereby two fashionable men from London are persuaded by Tony Lumpkin to stay at his father’s house, under the impression it is an inn, while one of the young Londoners has a disability, something which would be beloved of French farceur Georges Feydeau.
Young Marlow is desperately shy with young women of his own class, though flirtatious with the lower female orders. So when he arrives at her house, Kate Hardcastle encourages him by playing the barmaid.
But Goldsmith’s humour arises from character, not farcical action. Kate has humble clothes to hand to please her father; she dresses fashionably by day but modestly in the evenings to suit his love of a simple life. It’s fashion-conscious Mrs Hardcastle who ends looking foolish, her misplaced fondness for Toby offset by deceit about her age, not only out of vanity but for material gain.
Yet, even her final humiliation doesn’t exclude her from the benevolence with which the folly of others is forgiven.
Martin Johns’ set moves rapidly between a dark woodland and the Hardcastle house. Its exterior wall, stately yet on a pleasantly modest scale, opens-out to reveal the plain yet comfortable interior where most of the story unfolds.
It seems perfectly adjusted to a pleasant tone which fits with the characters’ individuality. And elements of Ian Forrest’s production equally capture the sense of a cosy little community with its own identity. The uncontained laughter erupting between Peter Macqueen’s old Hardcastle and Richard Earl as his long-term servant Diggory when they recall Hardcastle’s best comic story typifies this benevolent society.
But matters would have been better without the production’s insistent gestures and mugging. These affect several characters, notably comic fulcrum Tony; as if Goldsmith’s story and dialogue weren’t enough and every line required a pulled face or moving arm to signal things are meant to be funny.
They already are, and would be more so without all this.
Pimple: Janine Birkett.
Tony Lumpkin: Gareth Cassidy.
Constance Neville: Laura Darrall.
Sir Charles Marlow: Roger Delves-Broughton.
Diggory: Richard Earl.
Marlow: Richard Galazka.
Hastings: Ben Ingles.
Mr Hardcastle: Peter Macqueen.
Kate Hardcastle: Isabella Marshall.
Mrs Hardcastle: Maggie O’Brien.
Director: Ian Forrest.
Designer/Costume: Martin Johns.
Lighting: Nick Beadle.
Sound: Maura Guthrie.
Composer: Richard Atkinson.
Movement: Ella Vale.
Dialect coach: Charmian Hoare.