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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
She Stoops to Conquer
by Lizzie Loveridge

I don't know that I was ever familiarly acquainted with a single modest woman - except my mother.
-- Charles Marlow
She Stoops to Conquer
Christopher Staines as Charles Marlow and Monica Dolan as Kate Hardcastle
(Photo: John Haynes)
She Stoops to Conquer is a wonderful play. It satirises the English with good humour - the country folk who aspire to the style of London, the young women who read novels and wish for romance and adventure and the spoilt young men of good family who fritter their life. This is not a malicious satire but a good-natured one. The modern role-play implications are not lost on today's audience in a dramatic move which harks back to Shakespeare, or even Roman comedy, and forward to Pinter.
Produced by Out of Joint to complement April de Angelis' new play A Laughing Matter (see link below), about Oliver Goldsmith and David Garrick, this is a conventional interpretation of She Stoops to Conquer. I saw it on the press day when I was rather disappointed and again, two weeks later, when it seemed to me to be much improved in pace and clarity. Maybe it was difficult to follow April de Angelis' very funny play with Goldsmith's more subtle satire?

Max Stafford-Clark has decided to set She Stoops to Conquer in Lichfield, Staffordshire, the Black Country home town of both Dr Johnson and David Garrick. The resulting authentic northern Midlands accent of Tony Lumpkin (Owen Sharpe) was very difficult, even for me, a native Englishwoman, to understand. But Lumpkin, although he may have taken the main acting part in Goldsmith's day, is not as finely comic to twenty first century taste as the comedy of the young gentlemen's mistake. They take Mr Hardcastle's private manor house to be the local inn and treat him, a man of property, as a paid servant. This is even more delightful an error when we realise that Oliver Goldsmith, himself, made this social gaffe in real life. How embarrassing must that have been?

Ian Redford as Mr Hardcastle is an obliging host if somewhat baffled by the impudence of his guests. "He (Marlow) has not been in the house three hours and he has already encroached on all my prerogatives." This is another great genial performance from Redford whom some will remember as the big guy in a dress in Mark Ravenhill's Mother Clap's Molly House.

Monica Dolan as Kate Hardcastle has lovely timing, a turn of her pert head, a wry look, are all that are needed to underline a comic moment and heighten the laughter. Kate and Constance peel with laughter at the prospect of their suitors, the girls all fluttering silk trim and lacy femininity. Dolan is an infectious giggler. She is excellent in her alter ego, as the barmaid who "stoops to conquer" Charles Marlow (Christopher Staines). Staines switches confidently from stammering shyness with women of his social class to lascivious lothario with the maid.

Jane Wood is not over the top as the fashion wannabe Mrs Hardcastle who easily succumbs to flattery- again a nicely judged performance. Jason Watkins scene steals, excelling in a tiny role as a country servant who is trying to impress the visitors from town with his stiff, upright stance and curved out hands. Fritha Goodey as Miss Constance Neville and Stephen Beresford as Mr George Hastings make a sincere, eloping couple, as if we can take these romantic runaways seriously! Owen Sharpe's red hunting jacketted rude boy Lumpkin contrasts the overly delicate with his oafishness and carousing.

The staging has incorporated four boxes with members of the audience to provide actor-audience action and a small amount of repartee. A forestage allows this, the rear of the stage being used only for the last scene in the grounds of the house. The scene pivots some of the wooden panelling to give the country inn which is Tony Lumpkin's second home. The costume is authentic and somewhat muted in colour.

"she Stoops to Conquer" surely deserves its position as a top play after almost a quarter of a millennium. Its language is easily understood today, such is Goldsmith's skill as a writer of clarity. A new prologue and epilogue, written for the individual place where these plays were performed as they were in Goldsmith's day, sets us in the right mood, ensures the play is not marred by the ringing tones of mobile phones, and ends the evening on a smile. But it doesn't finish there, as a country dance ensues, with unsuspecting audience members hauled up to join in the fun.

A Laughing Matter

Curtain Up's review of Goldsmith's play by the Pearl Theatre company in NYC She Stoops to Conquer

She Stoops to Conquer
Written by Oliver Goldsmith
Directed by Max Stafford-Clark

With: Stephen Beresford, Nigel Cooke, Monica Dolan, Fritha Goodey, Bella Merlin, Ian Redford, Owen Sharpe, Matthew Sim, Christopher Staines, Jason Watkins, Jane Wood.
Designer: Julian McGowan
Lighting Designer: Johanna Town
Music: Paddy Cunneen
Choreographer: Wendy Allnutt
Sound: Neil Alexander
Running time: Two hours 45 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7452 3000
Booking to 29th March 2003
On tour to Exeter, Cambridge, Liverpool, Bath, and Northampton.
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 17th December 2002 and 3rd January performances at the Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, South Bank, London SE1 (Tube Station: Waterloo)
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