Friday, 16 May 2014

Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer presented by Creative Cow, at The Haymarket, Basingstoke.

A classic comedy of manners, Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer has played audiences for over two centuries. The play is a boisterous tale about two young ‘blades’ , Charles Marlow and George Hastings and their attempts to woo  Kate Hardcastle and her friend Constance Neville.

However, as one would expect from a comedy it’s never going to be that easy if the two pending marriages are to conclude happily. What follows is what one would expect: an evening of devious plot twists, dissembling, comedy, and confusion. It keeps its 18th century setting yet brings naturalism and artifice to the stage. A nodding wink there, an aside there contributes to the fun.

Moreover, if it all gets too much, the programme has a synopsis for the faint hearted. The company were in fine form and although at times I found Hastings and Marlow wearying, it was not the case with the parents of Kate Hardcastle.

 In Katherine Senior’s Mrs Hardcastle, we had a vain and seemingly corrupt social climber bored by the country. In contrast, her husband, Mr Hardcastle (David Summer) who has matrimonial plans for his daughter is content in his rural ways. Although incensed by the behaviour of the two young men who mistake him for an innkeeper he holds it together amongst this gallery of misfits and caricatures.
Joe Bateman as the schemer, and not so dumb, Lumpkin provided the bawdy in response to the supposedly genteel household.

The set was simple and innovative and suiting the play and Creative Cow’s stated aims, to be simple, direct, and entertaining. They pride themselves on being able to present their work anywhere, adapting to ‘any space’. The set on this occasion consisted of four large gold picture frames, along with some minimal furniture. It subtly complemented the action, never distracting from the fertile language.

Sadly, if I had to find fault I would point out that it appears to be a rather lengthy production. Mistaken identities etc. can only be theatrically rewarding for so long. However, we are not looking through eighteenth eyes and it could the case that we overlook the finer subtleties and nuances of the play and only witness the farcical elements.Despite these reservations, it was still a rewarding and pleasing performance and a credit to the company.

This review first appeared in the Newbury Weekly News.