Gilly Tompkins & John Trenchard

She Stoops to Conquer @ York Theatre Royal Review

[Originally Published by On:Yorkshire Magazine:]

The posters advertising Northern Broadsides’ version of She Stoops to Conquer (and even the play’s program cover) immediately give you a flavour of what to expect from this new production. A pretty, well-endowed lady being propositioned by an elaborately dressed gentleman in a pub gives a nod to just one of the hilarious situations in the play and the bawdy comedy that is to be expected.

She Stoops to Conquer is the famous comedic play by Irish author Oliver Goldsmith that depicts a series of increasingly ridiculous misunderstandings that take place on one very long evening. Despite being written and first performed in the 18th Century the likeable characters and recognisable dilemmas they find themselves in gives the play an enduring appeal as it remains very relevant to a modern day audience.

Northern Broadsides Theatre Company successfully injects a large amount of ‘Northern Wit’ into the play. For example, the old-fashioned Mr Hardcastle is very much stuck in his ways and is happy wiling away his days in his slightly shabby ancestral home ‘Liberty Hall’ with no intention to explore cultured cities. I am sure we all know one or two northern men who fit this description! On the other hand, his larger-than life-wife, complete with a huge, bright orange wig and clashing animal print dress, longs for the excitement and cultural experiences that London has to offer. Little does she know that some of that heady excitement and drama is, unwittingly, soon to descend upon her home.

OTT is certainly a good phrase to describe the play in general. Big, bright costumes with clashing colours and very modern leopard and tiger prints are combined with ludicrously big hairstyles and even louder characters. But this full-on approach heightens the comedy and the explosive drama of the complex, intertwining storylines that develop between the main characters.

The story centres on Mr Hardcastle trying to match his daughter Kate with his oldest friend’s son, Young Marlowe. A few stumbling blocks are thrown in as the play progresses, however, to make their union far from smooth. Kate’s bumbling and childish half-brother, Tony Lumpkin, seizes the opportunity to play a trick on Young Marlowe and his companion when he happens to meet them at a local pub. He convinces them that his father’s house – their destination – is in fact a local inn that they can stay in for the night before heading on refreshed to Mr Hardcastle’s manor the following morning. Cue lots of impudent behaviour from the “well-mannered, modest, eligible suitor” Young Marlowe to his future father-in-law whom he believes to be a self-important, meddling landlord.

Oliver Gomm’s fantastically spirited portrayal of Young Marlowe is the highlight of the play. His character is struck almost dumb by being around respectable women but is wildly improper with ladies of the lower classes and he flips effortlessly between the two Young Marlowe personalities throughout. Around Miss Kate Hardcastle he can barely make eye contact let alone speak in coherent sentences and his limbs shake uncontrollably with nerves. However, confronted with ‘the common barmaid’, Miss Hardcastle in a less fancy dress, he is transformed into a lecherous man full of bold moves and smooth lines for the, ahem, lucky lady who has taken his fancy. Gomm reminded me of the great, late Rik Mayall, particularly with his depiction of the cocky Marlowe – very Lord Flashheart from Blackadder.

Along with Kate and her father being at odds with their first impressions of Marlowe, but in spite of their differing impressions they both agree that they think him unsuitable as a future husband, there is Mrs Hardcastle’s plan to marry off her son, Tony Lumpkin, to her niece Miss Neville in a bid to keep Miss Neville’s inherited jewels in the Hardcastle family. The only trouble is the cousins hate each other and have plans to escape Mrs Hardcastle’s controlling ways as soon as possible. The dynamic between Miss Neville and Tony Lumpkin is hilarious as they try to keep up the illusion that they will end up married whilst attempting to hide their palpable dislike for each other even though it is clear to the audience.

There are musical interludes throughout that help to segue nicely between scenes and the brilliant chorus of minor characters injects added laughs with their funny asides to the audience and great comedy acting and singing. The music itself seemed to fit the period setting of the play well whilst the tongue-in-cheek lyrics elaborated on the narrative of the play which helped you keep-up with the increasingly convoluted and intertwining plotlines.

Of course, by the end of the play all of the misunderstandings have been resolved and everyone seems to get the resolution they desired. All-in-all, the Northern Broadsides’ performance offers a fast-paced high octane comedy play that is guaranteed to have you laughing out loud at least once during the play – it is well worth a watch.

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