Writer: Oliver Goldsmith
Director: Conrad Nelson
Musical Director: Rebekah Hughes
Reviewer: Audrey Pointer
Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer is a rarity, being a humorous play of the 18th century still regularly performed today. It’s an obvious choice for award-winning company Northern Broadsides, with their avowed intent to breathe new life into classical texts.
At home in Liberty Hall, Mr. Hardcastle (Howard Chadwick) plans to get his daughter wedded to Young Marlow (Oliver Gomm), the son of a friend. However, the course of events does not run smoothly, on account of various, sometimes mischievous, interventions by people and conflicting desires.
Jessica Worrall’s set, on a traverse stage, is book-ended by two large cloth screens showing Gainsborough landscapes, vaguely autumnal in colouring, which provide opportunities for characters to hide behind and peep out from. At one end, the actors enter and exit via two doors. Period furniture is dotted about the floor space, while two wooden columns, decorated with animal heads and pictures, suggest the room perimeters. Against one of the columns is a fireplace and above the stage a large chandelier dangles. The effect is minimal but of the period.
In terms of costume, things look authentically Georgian at first but there is a slightly subversive use of modern materials, and possibly colours, to give a contemporary edge. This is in line with Broadsides’ other modern touches, namely occasional in-vogue facial expressions and vocal sounds.
Lighting has to be bright enough for the audience to see, while conveying a large and somewhat shabby candlelit hall. In one outdoors scene, though she is only a mere matter of yards away from Liberty Hall, Mrs. Hardcastle fails to make out her home. Mark Howland’s lighting scheme succeeds well in both settings.
Conrad Nelson’s direction is purposeful and focused, and allows the actors to transmit their sense of enjoyment and ebullience. It is a Northern Broadsides’ style which puts the audience at ease.
Tony Lumpkin is played with gusto by Jon Trenchard, a rôle demanding a larger-than-life exuberance with more than a hint of slyness. He has several key scenes, notably an enjoyable musical number with chums in the bar of The Three Pigeons in act one. He also shares a comical three-hander with cousin Miss Neville (Lauryn Redding) with the two of them attempting to trick Mrs. Hardcastle about their affections for each other while nipping and bending back each other’s fingers.
Mr. Hardcastle, who carries the storyline much of the time, has several reasons to be annoyed. At one point, he becomes apoplectic with rage, tearing off his wig and blasting Young Marlow whose shy demeanour is revealed in stuttering and awkward, squirming movements. Gilly Tompkins revels in the part of Mrs. Hardcastle, the comical, orange-coiffured wife who yearns for a more exciting life.
Hannah Edwards is also a key player, in her rôle as Miss Hardcastle, the “she” of the play’s title. Hannah conveys a thoroughly modern woman in many ways, though she is artfully able to take on the guise of a maid, slipping into her native scouse accent, to allow love to flourish.
No performer disappoints and each is accomplished musically, as is usually the case with Broadsides. The supporting cast work hard too, peppering the action with enjoyable humour and song.
This is a jolly, amusing play of relationships, produced with the usual zest and pace of a Northern Broadsides production. The play lacks the political dimension of some of the company’s previous works but there are ample laughs and committed, energetic performances from all concerned.
Runs Until: 6th September 2014