Review: She Stoops to Conquer

February 3, 2012
  • Rating: ★★★★☆
The National Theatre
The South Bank

Oliver Goldsmith’s famous play is a good old-fashioned romp. Cases of mistaken identity abound, incriminating snippets of conversation are overheard, priceless jewels are misplaced.

Summarising the labyrinthine plot, which twists and writhes for two and a half hours, would take pages. Suffice it to say the well-to-do young Marlow is duped into thinking he is staying at an inn rather than the home of a bride his father has lined up for him – and that the father of the bride is an innkeeper with delusions of grandeur.

This proves quite handy, as Marlow is dumbstruck when faced with women of his own class but is quite happy to letch on the riff-raff below him – just the kind of man the vivacious young Miss Hardcastle, whom he mistakes for a bar maid, is looking for.

While the whole thing could quite easily descend into a bitter critique of the class system, the performances are light and animated enough to keep it whimsical rather than overtly satirical.

The cast is decidedly A-list. The League of Gentlemen’s Steve Pemberton charges the cantankerous, put-upon master of the house with a desperate energy. Corrie’s Katherine Kelly is solid as Miss Hardcastle, although she fights a sometimes losing battle against an under-developed character.

David Fynn provides the laughs as lovable oaf Tony Lumpkin, who turns unlikely hero after devising a complicated masterplan. But John Hefferman steals the show as the breathless, roguish Hastings, Marlow’s in-the-know foil. His dialogue with Marlow provides the stand-out moments in Jamie Lloyd’s adaptation.

The whole thing is played with a camp, sometimes Carry On humour, with double entendres flying and some risque encounters between the courting lovers. The set design puts the rotating stage to impressive use, morphing seamlessly from ramshackle inn to foggy woodland.

The dancing, musical interludes are a little twee, notwithstanding the impressive choreography, but that’s a small gripe. When you reach the end of She Stoops to Conquer its hard not to smile as everything falls neatly into place.

First published in City A.M.