theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…
If ever a production showed just how important it is to get the set and costumes right, this touring version of She Stoops to Conquer from Birmingham Rep and The Touring Consortium, directed by Jonathan Munby, is it. And that’s a shame because a good production is struggling to get out, one that has many of the right ingredients. The play may be over 200 years old but it still has the capacity to amuse, if done well.
Tony Lumpkin (Jonathan Broadbent) creates havoc and misunderstanding when he mischievously leads young London blades, Charles Marlow (Matthew Douglas) and George Hastings (Matthew Burgess), astray by giving directions to what is, in fact, their intended destination – the home of the Hardcastles – by telling them it is the local hostelry. Thus Marlow mistakes Miss Kate Hardcastle for the barmaid and Mr Hardcastle for the landlord. The Mistakes of a Night should build with satisfying alacrity.
While the actors are, for the most part, no more than serviceable, some of the females are engaging and funny, particularly Dorothea Myer-Bennett as Kate. She gives a delightfully polished performance as the spirited ingénue who knows exactly how to ‘play’ Marlow, whether he is being the swaggering buck who believes her to be the barmaid or the timorous, stuttering suitor he becomes when in the company of society ladies.
Liza Goddard, replete with a Brummie accent, erases all memory of her television roles by giving a charged performance as the vain and manipulative Mrs Hardcastle, making great use of her voluminous skirts and a mobile face. She rushes hither and thither in desperate attempts to ensure that her son Tony courts Constance Neville (Annie Hemingway), her stepdaughter Kate’s cousin. Constance, mind you, is in love with Hastings and he with her. And it is Hastings who becomes aware that the ‘inn’ is actually the Hardcastle family home, although he purposely decides not to enlighten his friend.
If only the enjoyable aspects of the production weren’t overshadowed by the dun-coloured set and the synthetic shine of almost all the costumes. As a backdrop to events, the evenly painted stone bricks standing for both the inn and the Hardcastle manor look as if they have been created with cheap computer software. As for the synthetic shine, it startles the eye adversely, although I found the division of the characters by dressing Kate and Marlow in green, with Constance, Hastings and Mrs Hardcastle in red, to be pleasing.
Bryony Lavery has provided an up-to-date prologue and epilogue which are disconcerting: Kate and Hardcastle open and close the play in front of the curtain as modern theatre ushers. Goldsmith’s own couplets would have been far preferable. And while I enjoyed Olly Fox’s compositions inserted into the play and sung by various members of the company, these impede the flow of action.
In all, Munby’s production is not nearly as funny as it should be and could be; a little judicious re-casting and removal of the modern additions would make all the difference.
Sarah Vernon © 2008
Originally published on R&V 25-03-08
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