The plot is deeply intertwined with deception – almost every character concealing something during the play – whilst the storyline becomes increasingly farcical
Northern Broadsides Theatre production of Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer, directed by Conrad Nelson, was a refreshing recreation of the age-old classic. We enter the play – set in the 18th century English countryside – at the Hardcastle house, where Mr. Hardcastle (Howard Chadwick) reveals that his friends-son, Charles Marlow (Oliver Gomm), is coming to visit in order to court Miss Kate Hardcastle (Hannah Edwards). Through a chance meeting with the mischievous Tony Lumpkin (Jon Trenchard), Charles Marlow arrives at the house under the pretense that it is an inn. Simultaneously, Mrs Hardcastle (Gilly Tompkins) has intentions for her son Tony Lumpkin to marry his cousin Miss Constance Neville (Lauryn Redding), but when George Hastings (Guy Lewis) arrives with Charles Marlow, it starts to become clear that neither Tony Lumpkin or Constance Neville are willing to succumb to that end. The plot is deeply intertwined with deception – almost every character concealing something during the play – whilst the storyline becomes increasingly farcical. The play provides a caricature of 18th century England with the sharp distinctions of class between characters, portraying the cultural trend growing out of London, in terms of fashion and socializing. It also captured the fairly stringent social conventions or rules of how characters must interact with one another. The title of the play is likely to come from the need of Kate Hardcastle to present herself as a barmaid so that she can find out the true character of Charles Marlow – a character crippled by social convention.
From leopard-print body suits to rich-coloured silk dresses, costumes brought out not only personalities but also effectively drew distinctions between classes
Some of the most memorable scenes of the play revolved around musical instruments. The highly dynamic and multi-talented actors showed the full range of their capabilities whilst singing, dancing, playing a range of musical instruments and even continuing their dialogues whilst on the move. The choreography (Matthew Bugg) of the scenes was sharp and effective – each character on stage added something special to the stimulating scenes. A particularly effective element of the play was the verbalization of characters internal thoughts. During witty exchanges between characters, almost in real-time, characters would share their internal thoughts for the benefit of the audience and then continue verbally sparring as if nothing had happened. Overall direction was skillfully carried out. Every costume seemed meticulously planned, with the overall design of the play by Jessica Worrall a great success. From leopard-print body suits to rich-coloured silk dresses, costumes brought out not only personalities but also effectively drew distinctions between classes. All those that had come from London wore high top boots and pointed hats, a noticeable feature. Kate Hardcastle and Constance Neville wore brightly coloured silk dresses, whilst their hair stood on their heads like stylized mountains.
The main weakness of the performance was in the dialogue. The first few scenes where characters were talking weren’t particularly enticing and at times quite dry. However, I am not ruling out the possibility of the need to acclimatize to the way characters speak, given the play was written over 240 years ago. Even still, there were a few scenes where actors completely lacked conviction with their characters. During those scenes, it felt like actors were reciting the lines they had learnt rather than speaking through their characters and/or playing their part.
Given my above criticisms, the performances of actors were overall of a high quality. Notable performances came from Howard Chadwick, with a raging roar as fierce as a lion. The different aspects of the character were matched masterfully by Chadwick’s versatility. Hannah Edwards’s performance was also superb, the sharp accent change to play the role of the bar-maid was impressive in its own right, but Edwards created two distinct characters on stage which were both believable, used to great comedic effect. Finally, although having less prominent roles, the performances of Andrew Whitehead, Robert Took and Alan McMahon really added something special to the overall play. Every scene they were in, the micromanaging of their bodies and the few comments they added converted the funny scenes into hilarious ones.
Overall, it was a really enjoyable performance at York Theatre Royal. Perhaps not a play for everyone to go see – the dialogue isn’t always straightforward – but a play that if you’re willing to make a bit of an effort and sit through the first bit, will continue to charm you and leave you satisfied by the end.