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She Stoops to Conquer (tour – Chelmsford)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Staging Georgian comedies is not a precise science. Particularly when the production is to be toured to a sequence of very different theatres and arts centres. Peter Doran’s solution for Mappa Mundi’s production of Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer is to blend naturalism with artifice. Naturalism in the way the characters speak and are depicted; artifice in the way that the audience is drawn to participate in the action.

The setting is simple. Sean Crowley has provided a panelled back wall, with window shutters open for the scenes in the Hardcastles’ manor and closed for those in the Three Pigeons Inn and out-of-doors. There’s a staircase to one side and a fireplace on the other with a settle, a winged armchair, some stools and a table between them. Nothing else. This works very well and keeps the drama on the move. Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones’ costumes are clothes and there’s some enjoyable pastiche 18th century music by Peter Knight. All the cast inhabit their parts just as securely as they do their clothes. Marlow in Stephen Casey’s portrayal is a foil to Richard Nichols’ more saturnine Hastings, a younger man just escaping from puppydom and one who only escapes from being a more sophisticated version of Tony Lumpkin through his town-centred education. Casey is not the dashing young hero familiar from some stagings, but he does make Marlow thoroughly credible if not always completely likeable.

Lumpkin himself can sometimes be a bore, but Edward Harrison emphasises that his mischief-making is as much due to frustrated boredom and his mother’s overly clinging solicitude as to any inherent evil. He may never be as good a country squire as his step-father Hardcastle, but he’s unlikely to prove an altogether bad one. Liam Tobin’s Hardcastle is never a bore, though I do wish the director hadn’t involved him in so much interaction with the audience; this spoils the clever way in which most of the asides and soliloquies are presented and fatally breaks into the illusion so carefully built up that these are real people who just happen to be from a different century to our own. Of the women, Mali Tudno Jones is a delightful Kate, genuine in her relationship with her father and with a nice balance between the attraction she feels towards Marlow, her concern for her cousin’s happiness and her knowledge that all’s fair in love – whatsever the case may be as far as war is concerned. Kathryn Dimery’s Mrs Hardcastle swoops and shrills to the manor born from her first grumbles at her country existence to her final monetary defeat. {Lynne Seymour] is Constance; again this is a characterisation with more spark than is sometimes allowed the second ingénue lead and suggests that she has her right match in Hastings.


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