Things not what they scene

25th October 1996 at 01:00
In Patrick Connellan's sumptuously painted set for She Stoops to Conquer at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, we have what is clearly a piece of theatrical scenery, its trompe l'oeil effects underlining Oliver Goldsmith's theme that nothing is as it seems, and that it is by playing a part that Kate Hardcastle (Katy Stephens) releases the passion of her bashful lover, Marlowe.

As Tony Lumpkin (an engagingly warm and roguish portrait from Victor McGuire), and his cronies at The Three Pigeons pull the dust-covers off the grand staircase of Hardcastle Hall, the theatrical metaphor is established, yet within this artificial framework director Bob Eaton and his cast create characters who have a strong psychological base.

This is not a production in which fans, ruffles and airy 18th century "style" dub it a "period piece" with very little sense of its human element. Here we have believeable characters in an extraordinary situation, and the comedy arises from their foibles: Marlowe's excruciating shyness (the courtship scene is beautifully realised by Jeremy Harrison), Mrs Hardcastle's yearning for the high-life of London and her irritation with her devious son, and traditionally minded husband who "loves everything old".

To November 2. School party concessions. Box Office: 01203 553055.

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