When Oliver Goldsmith needed inspiration for a new comedy he did what any self-respecting writer would do, he took himself off to the country. His three month sojourn to find “something to make people laugh” certainly did the trick, and She Stoops to Conquer has been keeping audiences amused for more than two hundred and thirty years.
The “She” in question is Kate Hardcastle the lovely daughter of a wealthy country squire. He arranges for her to meet Charles Marlow, the son of an aristocratic old friend, with a view to matrimony but things go much awry in this popular comedy which centres on one vital misunderstanding.
The Squire’s stepson, Tony Lumpkin, tricks Marlow and his companion George Hastings in to believing his country mansion is in fact a local inn. While Squire Hardcastle makes the young man welcome he in turn treats the house as a commercial establishment, sets his servants to drink the place dry expecting the "landlord" to be pleased at the custom and dismisses his host as a humble publican. Hardcastle, for his part is increasingly baffled and then offended by his guest's bumptious behavour.
Marlow is a confident and genial young man in most circumstances, but in the company of women of his own social class he becomes hopelessly tongue-tied and bashful. Fortunately for him his handicap completely disappears with women from the lower social orders. Kate disguises herself as a barmaid and the two discover a real attraction while her father becomes increasingly angry with the young man and threatens to throw him out.
Alongside all this there is a clandestine relationship between Marlow's companion Hastings and Kate’s best friend Constance, sub plots about stolen jewels and unwanted betrothals and you have a surprisingly modern play that still has plenty to entertain today's audience and makes an excellent opener to the Playhouse’s new season.
Lucy Pitman-Wallace’s production drew assured performances from a strong cast including Mike Burnside and Joan Moon as the Hardcastles. Ellie Beaven and Rina Mahoney make a lively Kate and Constance with Edmund Kingsley particularly impressive as Charles Marlow.