She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith. Directed by Tony Turner. Canberra Repertory. Theatre 3. Sept 22 to Oct 8.
Tony Turner’s cheerful production of She Stoops to Conquer demystifies a classic in style. Although it happily uses the visuals of the 18th Century and is as bewigged and knee breeched as is possible by costume designer Anna Senior, it avoids becoming bogged down in reverence for the past. It simply gets on with the business of being funny.
Young Marlow (George Pulley) and George Hastings (Teig Sadhana) arrive at the house of Hardcastle (Jonathan Pearson) and his wife Dorothy (Elaine Noon) but thanks to a load of deliberate misdirection from Tony Lumpkin (Adam Salter), Dorothy’s loud and loutish son by a previous marriage, they mistake the Harcastles’ home for an inn. Marlow is Hardcastle’s choice of husband for his daughter Kate (Zoe Priest) and Hastings is in pursuit of Constance Neville (Kate Harris). Hastings' and Constance 's relationship thrives despite a few obstacles but Kate has to disguise herself as a barmaid in order to draw out Marlow, who is reticent in better company. (Apparently he is fine with barmaids, an issue that is never really explored.)
Of course all comes right in the end and all the correct people are united but along the way glorious confusion reigns. Pearson is a bemused and proper Hardcastle, well partnered by the bustling Noon as Dorothy. As Tony, Salter is an ignorant lout but vaguely good hearted. The rather fey Constance (Harris) is right to prefer the much more romantic Hastings (Sadhana) to Tony and they make a lovely eloping couple. Pulley is a straightforward Young Marlow. Priest makes an intelligent and funny Kate, possessed of a most likable dignity as she sorts out her potential husband.
There’s an odd sense of the British sitcom going on here, years before it made it to television. And the prologue by two Actors (Salter and Jan Smith) has more than a touch of British absurd.
But it’s still the 18th Century and there are wigs everywhere among the upper classes, right down to a towering one sported by fashion conscious Dorothy Hardcastle with a small ship risking shipwreck in it.
The lower classes may lack the wigs but they certainly do not get left out. They are everywhere; in the inn, in the garden, in the Hardcastle home. Hardcastle lines them up and instructs them on behaviour but it has no effect. No matter the scene there is likely to be a bunch of them lurking, listening. In fact for some of them it’s an excuse to sit down and eat while they watch the goings on. It’s a gormless chorus and it glues the show together wonderfully.
They are also employed to shift Cate Clelland’s economical and clever black and white set and furniture, which they do in character and with about as much energy as they do most things.
It is not a measure of the cleaning and washing regime at Theatre 3 that the audience is issued with optional pomanders (oranges studded with cloves) at the start of the show. Rather it is about the comfortable way in which this show tackles the material. It’s a very enjoyable production of a classic that deserves some full houses for its final performances.