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Clever Dick

She Stoops to Conquer (Manchester)

By • West End
WOS Rating:
Braham Murray can always be relied upon to inject pace and enthusiasm into the quaintest of productions. Worryingly after a very slow first half you begin to wonder whether the wonderful director has lost his touch. Yes, he includes all of the lovely scenes featuring Oliver Goldsmith's characters posing as others to confuse and beguile. But his approach seems safe and the play ends up feeling like Oscar Wilde diluted and sapped of energy.

Luckily though the second half is utterly inventive and the cast gamely throw themselves into each comic situation with much gusto and enthusiasm. What begins as a light and gentle drawing room comedy soon has the audience laughing non stop at its original approach. Murray brings the action right into the laps of the grinning audience. The themes of mistaken identity and lust are approached with such unending verve that the play gallops along leaving you feeling quite breathless.

Its rustic England in the 1760s and Young Marlow is a rich man not averse to chatting up barmaids. But he gets tongue tied and bashful when he meets a society lady. He falls for Kate Hardcastle and comic situations ensue as characters play at being somebody they are not in order to reach a state of equilibrium and gain true love.

Alison Pargeter's Kate is an absolute delight. Squeaky voiced, with heaving bosom one minute and a genteel lady the next - this is an actress who cleverly plays the material for all its worth. Equally good is Desmond Barrit as her father. He engages the audience at every turn with his booming sardonic wit. Polly Hemingway steals many scenes as the confused Mrs Hardcastle, complete with oversized wig and funny walk. Celyn Jones is also a real find as her boisterous son Tony Lumpkin, again gaining laughs from every crazy plot twist.

Ellen Cairn's wonderful wooden set design provides an ideal platform for the chaotic nature of the narrative. Murray has crafted an affectionate take on this classic. The audience on the night I went laughed their way out of the theatre -and with good reason, as the all conquering cast stoop to great lengths to keep you smiling.

- Glenn Meads


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