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She Stoops to Conquer (Viaduct Theatre)

Northern Broadsides' adaptation of Oliver Goldsmith's 18th century farce is a triumph of teamwork and ensemble playing.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Conrad Nelson's joyous production of She Stoops to Conquer proves once and for all that Northern Broadsides' approach to the classics is far more than Northernising speech and setting. It's always has been more than that, but here there's plenty of Received Standard Pronunciation around, yet the production is clearly stamped "Northern Broadsides".

Lauryn Redding (MIss Neville) & John Trenchard (Tony Lumpkin) in Northern Broadsides' She Stoops to Conquer.
©Nobby Clark

Why? How about the brilliant and integrated use of music, dance and movement (musical director Rebekah Hughes, choreographer Matthew Bugg)? Or the vigour and directness (not necessarily unsubtle) of the acting style? Or the designs (Jessica Worrall) that ingeniously merge fantasy with a realistic base? Or – perhaps, most of all – the refusal to treat the text reverently whilst still remaining true to the original?

Oliver Goldsmith's 1773 play is a mix of romantic comedy, town v country satire and fantastic farce: great fun, less affected than some 18th century theatre, if a touch wordy, though the pace of Broadsides' production tends to disguise that. The Hardcastles are prosperous country gentry, he living on his memories and content with rustic simplicity, she hopelessly infatuated with second-hand attempts at London style.

A complicated set of circumstances bringing potential husbands from London to pay court to their daughter Kate (formally) and her cousin Constance (surreptitiously) becomes a deal more complicated when Mrs. Hardcastle's son by a previous marriage, Tony Lumpkin, deceives the travellers into believing the Hardcastle residence is an inn – and that's where the broad farce begins.

The opening two scenes are in typical Broadsides territory, with Conrad Nelson's always witty and theatrical transformation of the original material. The Hardcastles at home works perfectly moved to one of the bleaker bits of Yorkshire, with Howard Chadwick's bluff and cantankerously kindly squire in the grand tradition. Gilly Tompkins' vain, self-deceiving, snobbish and unfailingly common Mrs. Hardcastle is as outlandish as her coiffure – and rather more believable!

The second scene in The Three Pigeons finds Tony with his yokel-ish mates and gives opportunity for a glorious set-piece of a drinking song, with the accompaniment growing from a simple single-note piano phrase – never was pub so well provided with musical instruments and customers who can play them! Strikingly and unusually Tony Lumpkin appears as a quick-witted, capering man of (he thinks) fashion, a sort of Master of the Revels on speed, or a manic Mozart, forever starting off tunes on the piano or his pipe (Pan, Peter or otherwise?). It may not be what Goldsmith intended, but Jon Trenchard's tour de force works splendidly.

Teamwork and ensemble playing are predictably excellent, with the lovers working hard not to be overshadowed, especially Oliver Gomm's Young Marlow, his physical contortions reflecting the agony of his reserve with respectable ladies, and Hannah Edwards whose rather one-note Kate bursts into life once she is forced to stoop to conquer.

She Stoops to Conquer continues at the Viaduct Theatre, Halifax until 6 September. For full tour details visit the Northern Broadsides website or see article below.