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Review Round-Ups

Review Round-up: National latest Conquers critics

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Jamie Lloyd’s production of She Stoops to Conquer opened at the National Theatre this week (31 January, previews from 24 January 2012).

The comedy of manners, written by Oliver Goldsmith, tells the story of Charles Marlow whose nerves get the best of him when around women of the upper class. When Marlow and a friend are staying at what they believe to be a local inn, he meets wealthy Kate Hardcastle. Having already learned of Marlow’s shyness, Kate hopes to marry him but realises she must pose as a maid to gain his attention.

Sophie Thompson, Steve Pemberton and Katherine Kelly star in the revival of this 18th century play which highlights issues of dysfunctional families and courtship, while making audiences chuckle. It continues in rep in the NT Olivier.

Michael Coveney

"Oliver Goldsmith’s famous 18th century prose comedy is more honoured on the page than on the stage these days, but Jamie Lloyd’s debut production at the National is the best in a long while … The action moves smoothly on the Oliver revolve, and Mark Thompson’s set … Lloyd makes no bones about bathing it all in Neil Austin’s orange, mellow lighting. But his trump card is in the casting of Harry Hadden-Paton as Marlow, a performance of quite unusual technical assurance, sincerity, skill and outstanding comic flair … And he is perfectly partnered by John Heffernan’s hilarious, willowy Hastings, a soft-hearted accomplice … Hastings’ campaign to win Cush Jumbo’s pretty and likeable Constance is in effect prosecuted by his supposed rival, the gloriously free-spirited Lumpkin of David Fynn, the cog in the wheel, the festive sprite … It all looks lovely and traditional while making you realise that much of the comedy deals in dislocation and deceit. The band strikes up, the flower petals descend in a gentle storm, the actors go into their dance once more, the audience smiles and claps.

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

"This fresh, spirited and often blissfully funny staging at the National Theatre will do very nicely. The play is a marvel, a comedy almost entirely bereft of malice, but one that never seems twee, sentimental or bland … If Jamie Lloyd’s production has a fault it is that it tries just a little too hard to be lovable … Steve Pemberton… fails to eclipse my fond memories of Donald Sinden’s harrumphing, jowl-wobbling outrage as the prosperous householder … And Sophie Thompson overdoes her faux-posh accent, though I must admit I laughed as much as I winced at her at times almost insanely over-the-top performance … Harry Haddon-Paton is superb as Marlow … Katherine Kelly… brings superb assurance to the role of Kate Hardcastle, brimming with mischief in the barmaid scenes … There is superb work, too, from David Fynn, who in an inspired touch gives mischievous misdirection to the posh Londoners with the help of a hare in a state of rigor mortis … At its best this is a great night of high English comedy and when the cast settle down, I suspect it will be even better.

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

"She Stoops to Conquer is almost 240 years old, but Oliver Goldsmith's tightly plotted play seems wonderfully youthful in this fizzy production … Credit to Jamie Lloyd for his precise direction - and to a buoyant cast … It's joyous stuff - broad yet polished. There's lovely ensemble work, neat movement overseen by Ann Yee, a handsome set by Mark Thompson, and jaunty musical interludes by Ben and Max Ringham that cover the scene changes appealingly … Kelly is wickedly assured … Hadden-Paton makes Marlow sumptuously funny while also suggesting his neurotic tendencies. John Heffernan reveals a gift for comedy as Marlow's friend Hastings, Cush Jumbo dazzles as the object of Hastings' affection, and David Fynn is deliciously robust as Tony Lumpkin … Best of all is Sophie Thompson, who is show-stealingly good as Mrs Hardcastle … Her performance, finely tuned and generous, typifies this sublime account of a somewhat neglected 18th-century classic."

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail

"Luxuriantly staged, extravagantly acted, the big new London production of She Stoops To Conquer leaves little to chance … Large cast, elaborate sets, musical touches: here is a show with its eyes popped wide in determination to amuse .. And yet the comedy is insistent to the point, almost, of bullying. I worried that I was not finding it quite as funny as I was meant to … Oliver Goldsmith’s convoluted plot arguably needs cartooning and it duly receives that from director Jamie Lloyd. He gives the whole thing a flavour of gurning caricature … That brings some benefits – the entr’acte singing provides variety – but it diminishes any sentimentality in the romantic tomfooleries … Steve Pemberton’s Hardcastle is all thick spectacles, bourgeois bombast and simmering outrage. Cheerfully well done … The opening scene with socially ambitious Mrs Hardcastle (Sophie Thompson) gets things off to a belting start. But Miss Thompson – this seems an impossible thing to say about a Mrs Hardcastle – overdoes things … Yet we can still admire the cleverness of the plot and its mazy twists … This show has high production values which match Goldsmith’s masterly scheming … What it lacks is the soul which would lift it above technical expertise into something more affecting.

Libby Purves
The Times

"Sophie Thompson as Mrs Hardcastle… adopts a bizarre mock-posh 'Faaaarshionable' lisp. Harry Hadden-Paton and John Heffernan willow around as fluting fops, until the former switches into Leslie Phillips woooagggh! mode when the host’s daughter plays the barmaid. That is a grand transition … But don’t expect dramatic depth. Think fairytale, operetta … The staging has its own laughs by flaring a fire, hooting an owl or crashing a thunderclap a split second too late to match the line … The point is that almost everyone is playing a part: either through self-delusion, bravado, or simple cross-purposes … There is faint satire in the way young Marlow thinks it OK to treat the lower orders insolently, but Hadden-Paton is so endearing in a schoolboyish way that you forgive … It’s just fun, from the moment David Fynn’s Lumpkin wanders on scratching his crotch with a half-eaten chicken leg."

Michael Billington

"It is a joy to see Oliver Goldsmith's 1773 classic back at the National after a 10-year gap … Jamie Lloyd's production is a collective success … It is its mixture of wit and warmth that keeps Goldsmith's comedy alive … Lloyd's production shrewdly keeps the 18th century setting … Exaggeration, falling just the right side of over-acting, is the keynote. Harry Hadden-Paton as Young Marlow is one moment a picture of paralysed inhibition, and the next a rampant lech pawing the ground like an impatient stallion. He is deftly countered by John Heffernan … There is slightly cooler playing from the highly impressive Kelly … Cush Jumbo matches her well as her genteel cousin, and there is a peach of a performance from David Fynn, who reminds us that Tony Lumpkin, who sets the whole plot up, is less a rustic booby than a good-hearted manipulator. Steve Pemberton adds to the merriment as the expostulating Mr Hardcastle … The production looks handsome: one particular moment, when the scene shifts from a moon-dappled wood to a domestic interior, is even strangely moving. But the real pleasure lies in seeing Goldsmith's great comedy restored to its rightful place in the repertory."

Sarah Hamming
Financial Times

"Jamie Lloyd’s twinkly, high-spirited production of Goldsmith’s 1773 comedy is played with lip-smacking relish … Lloyd and his cast deliver it with plenty of topspin and a pinch of Hogarth … Goldsmith guys the snobbery, hypocrisy and class tensions of his day without cruelty: this is above all a generous comedy. On Mark Thompson’s handsome country house set, the cast totter through the turmoil in wigs, frocks and frock-coats. Harry Hadden-Paton is a comic joy as the conflicted Marlow … John Heffernan brings lovely comic timing to his better adjusted friend, Hastings. Katherine Kelly plays Kate with the right mix of archness and innocence and Cush Jumbo brings lovely vivacity to Constance, Hastings’ girl. Sophie Thompson, meanwhile, turns Mrs Hardcastle into an extraordinary comic creation … The flaw in the production is that it works too hard, belabouring the fun in places so that a degree of romp fatigue sets in. But this is a droll evening of affectionate comedy."

Paul Taylor

"I was amused to see a credit for an Etiquette Consultant in the programme … There are sequences where you feel that if the 18th century had had its Steven Berkoff and Matthew Bourne, the resulting choreography would have looked a bit like this … Fresh from Coronation Street, the endearingly lanky Katherine Kelly gives a performance of beautifully natural and unforced comic authority as Kate … Sophie Thompson is in glorious form as the domineering and would-be social-climbing Mrs Hardcaste … There's wonderful moment when she drops a deep, graceful curtsey and has to be hauled by main force back upright. Looking like the love-child of Steve Coogan and the late Patrick Campbell, the splendid John Heffernan, as Hastings, offers an object lesson in how to be langudily elegant and amusingly brisk at the same time. A delight."

- McKenzie Kramer


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