She Stoops to Conquer

Oliver Goldsmith
RNT Lyttelton
(2002)

In April de Angelis' A Laughing Matter, Out of Joint's companion piece, the gestation of She Stoops to Conquer is laid out. Goldsmith's failures to get the play staged led him to the kind of starvation that ends in eating candles. Garrick fared little better as, by failing to produce the play, he missed the chance of riches.

After this build up, Max Stafford-Clark's production with a new prologue and epilogue by Stephen Jeffreys had much to live up to. While it sparkles in parts, too often it lacks pace and passion.

This is the story of two young men who venture into the Black Country with its impenetrable accents. One is on a blind date while the other wishes to elope with the ward of the lady of the house. Somehow they mistake the manor house for a luxury inn and their behaviour towards their host is therefore not all that it might be.

Christopher Staines makes a good fist of young Marlow, especially as the charmer who seduces Monica Dolan stooping to conquer as the slatternly maid. His shy persona with her in her true role of prospective wife contains a stammer can be painful to watch.

Fritha Goody is all innocence as the inconstant Constance and she has some fun, particularly in her scenes with Owen Sharpe as the scoundrel, Tony Lumpkin. To see the couple making love in the 18th Century sense, she a head the taller, cannot help but be funny.

Julian McGowan's set is a delight, lots of wooden panelling that encompasses boxes occupied by brave members of the audience. They are forced to share these with actors and musicians and also to play their embarrassed parts. It expands to turn from a parlour to an inn and at last, a garden complete with pond awaiting the screeching, vain mother, who is no match for her children, Jane Wood.

The story of much mistaken identity is well structured. This allows more and more revelation as the cast members address the audience as well as each other and misunderstandings abound. These are so often the source of much hilarity.

The whole is very funny in parts but also drags on occasion possibly because the value system of the time seems alien today, while the acting can be overly mannered. This means that it is possible to see actors striving for laughs rather than allowing them to come naturally. This is unnecessary when the cast includes comedians of the quality of Ian Redford as the father and Jason Watkins as Diggory. With their expressive faces, they cannot help but effortlessly amuse.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher