She Stoops To Conquer. By Oliver Goldsmith. Compass Theatre Company.
First staged in 1773, Oliver Goldsmith's comedy of mistaken identities is partly farce and partly social satire. Despite its age, it remains accessible because, as director Neil Sissons says, "it has a strong plot and such vibrant characters".
Set in the country, She Stoops To Conquer follows two London gents, Marlow and Hastings, who are tricked by local prankster Tony Lumpkin into believing his father's house is a local inn. Once there, Marlow treats Kate, daughter of Mr and Mrs Hardcastle, as if she were a barmaid, while Hastings tries to elope with her friend Constance.
But when Kate meets Marlow formally and discovers how shy he is with women of his own social class, she decides to play along with the deception and see if she can "conquer" him.
With its "nice frocks and big wigs", She Stoops To Conquer is played in "a high formal style, with particular gestures and asides, which is the best way of bringing across this kind of comedy," says Sissons. "We discovered that the artificiality doesn't affect the emotional truthfulness of the piece.
"The comedy arises out of the characters, and not just the verbal skirmishing. Kate is such an extraordinary character. She's thoroughly modern - she's in control of her life, and she has her father around her little finger.She's an empowered woman."
When she's going along with the pretence of being a barmaid, "she deepens her voice slightly - which is enough to show that she's playing a game with Marlow."
Marlow "gets what he deserves", but, as a character, "anything he says about women that is offensive, or caddish, must be balanced by his likeable nature." In the end, he is redeemed through his own mistakes and by meeting his match in Kate.
Mrs Hardcastle is "the most extreme character: the most caricatured and most troubling," says Sissons. "She's keeping her son Tony's real age from him and wants to hang on to the family jewels".
On the other hand, Mr Hardcastle is a figure of fun because he "assumes that we are with him, but actually he doesn't know what's going on".
It was very important "for the energy of the piece to tell the story clearly", says Sissons, mentioning how 12-year-olds have to be able to understand what can be a quite complicated play. "The play needs a rattling good pace, but if it's played too quick, the audience feels excluded, so you have to find the right timing," he says.
"The sheer elegance of the language is absolutely accessible, and although it has its feet in Restoration comedy, it also looks forward to modern farce and carry-on comedy."
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