Monday, September 26, 2016

SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER




She Stoops To Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith.

Directed by Tony Turner. Assisted by Kate Blackhurst. Set Design by Cate Clelland. Costumes by Anna Senior. Lighting design by Stephen Still. Canberra Repertory Society. Theatre 3. September 22 to October 8 2016.


 Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


 



Canberra theatregoers can indeed count themselves fortunate to be treated to Canberra Rep’s delightful, funny and reverend production of Oliver Goldsmith’s Laughing Comedy, She Stoops to Conquer. It is rare for a non-professional company to successfully stage this 18th century example of the early Comedy of Manners. Too often, it is presented as farce with scant regard for its sophistication, or as a representation of a period of artifice with little consideration for its spontaneous appeal to contemporary audiences. Hence Restoration Drama and its subsequent manifestations during the eighteenth century can often be maligned as Museum Theatre, antiquated and irrelevant.
Zoe Priest as Kate Hardcastle and Elaine Noon
as Mrs. Dorothy Hardcastle.
Director, Tony Turner, triumphantly dispels such criticism, presenting Goldsmith’s deliciously comical account of aristocratic follies, mistaken identities, wicked deception and practical jokes, all concluding with a happy ending to satisfy an audience and bring the unlikely events to a plausible resolution. What makes this production of She Stoops To Conquer so appealing is in fact Turner’s careful observance of the customs, conventions and traditions of Restoration Drama’s comedy of manners, style and wit.  The stereotypes of Commedia del Arte also bear influence on Goldsmith’s comedy with the autocratic father, the secret lovers, the trickster and the cunning maid, which Kate Hardcastle assumes to cajole the bashful Young Marlow into wooing her. Concealment devices such as screen that hide the two fathers as they listen o their son wooing Kate, whom he believes is an ordinary maid; satire that lampoons the foolish behaviour of the aristocracy and farce that lends the play its hilarity and pace all serve to give the play a contemporary appeal. In Rep’s production the action never flags. The characters are deftly drawn in mannerism , voice and physicality. There has been a studied observance of style and period .
Kate Harris as Constance Neville. Teig Sedhana as George Hastings
Jonathon Pearson as Mr. Hardcastle. George Pulley as Young Marlow
Such attention to detail is further evident in Cate Clelland’s cleverly conceived representation of the period, with cartoon black and white settings that can be moved to represent the Three Pigeons Inn or the interior of Mr. Hardcastle’s mansion or the wood where the lovers meet. I am amused at the in-joke that names the proprietor of the inn as R.B. Sheridan. And I wonder whether the distinguished figure drawn above the fireplace of Mr. Hardcastle's Living Room is none other than Oliver Goldsmith himself. It is the attention to detail that permeates every aspect of this production from the Pomanders that are distributed as they were in 1773 to relieve the foul odours of the time, and Anna Senior’s wonderfully sumptuous and authentic costumes.
Teig Sedhana as George Hastings and Elaine Noon as
Mr. Dorothy Hardcastle

Director Turner, assisted by Kate Blackhurst, has drawn  fine performances from the cast. Formality, foppery and frivolity lend this production entertaining authenticity. Even the less experienced members of the cast exude an assurance in performance that gives their characters credibility. The careful observance of posture and manner breathe life into the ridiculous nature of the characters from George Pulley’s bashful bows as the awkward suitor, Young Marlow to the affected movements of his friend George Hastings (Teig Sadhana). It is pleasing to see Ralph Wilson veteran, Jan Smith, return to the stage with delightfully obsequious and idiosyncratic performances  in the three roles that he plays.  There are also focused performances from the rabble of alehouse fellows and maids and the servants of the house. It is the mark of a cohesive and expressive ensemble.
Adam Salter as Tony Lumpkin. Jan Smith as Roger.

She Stoops To Conquer belongs to the principals and in this production, Turner has elicited some excellent performances, notably from Adam Salter as Tony Lumpkin, the comical, blustering, simple clownish son of Mrs. Hardcastle and Zoe Priest as the delightfully coquettish, conniving and enchanting Kate Hardcastle , who stoops to conquer the bashful Young Marlow by posing as a mere maid of the supposed inn. Priest is an actress, riding on a wave of considerable talent and professional potential. There is excellent support also from Kate Harris as Hasting’s inamorata, Constance Neville and Elaine Noon’s befuddled and bewildered Mrs. Dorothy Hardcastle. As Mr. Hardcastle, Jonathan Pearson effectively captures the confusion and ire of his perplexing situation as Lumpkin’s mischievous trick plays out its confusion.
Imogen Thomas, Zoe Priest, Patricia Manley and Karin Einhaus

Turner and his team have created a production that brings a fresh appeal to this classic eighteenth century comedy. Restoration Theatre and its early successors have generally not fared too well as popular productions by amateur theatre companies. Rep’s production is a revival that deserves full houses and would be a perfect example of the genre to amuse and entertain students of English dramatic literature of the period. For others, Rep’s She Stoops To Conquer is also a delight not to be missed.

    

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