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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER
at the National (Olivier)

ALL MANNER OF POMP
By SAM MARLOWE

  Sophie Thompson, Cush Jumbo and David Fynn/ Ph: Johan Persson

Boobyish dandies, buxom wenches, scheming ladies and roistering rogues swigging from tankards of ale – Jamie Lloyd’s new production of Oliver Goldsmith’s classic comedy of class division and town-and-country conflict is as rowdily pungent as a Hogarth print. It also has something of Hogarth’s darkness: With lusty songs by Ben and Max Ringham, raucous percussion and foot-stomping, and hip-thrusting choreography by Anne Yee, there’s always a lingering sense that the drunken revelry could turn nasty. The rustic hostelry near the Hardcastles’ home is a noisy, hectic place where effete townies Marlow and his friend Hastings are served ale garnished with a good gob of spit from contemptuous locals. And in Mark Thompson’s design the Hardcastle manse, though it boasts a cosy fireplace with a warm, roaring blaze that makes a very welcome sight on a cold winter’s night, is smoke-filled and black with soot, creating an authentic sense of shabbiness. 
 
But that’s not to say that there isn’t an abundance of jollity and riotous good humour here, too – and Lloyd’s cast certainly seems to be having a high old time. Steve Pemberton, best known for playing a gallery of grotesques in the black comedy TV series The League of Gentlemen, is Hardcastle, the tight-fisted, pompous but likable patriarch eager to make his comely daughter Kate (Katherine Kelly) a profitable matrimonial match. To that end, he has invited Harry Hadden-Paton’s smart but bashful urbanite, Marlow, down to the family’s country home. Marlow brings along his cohort Hastings (John Heffernan), who is conducting a romance with Kate’s cousin Constance (Cush Jumbo). There are two major obstacles to the happiness of both pairs: Marlow, though he has an eye for a low-born doxie, becomes ludicrously tongue-tied in the presence of a woman of any social standing, and Mrs Hardcastle (Sophie Thompson) wants to marry Tony Lumpkin (David Fynn), her layabout son from her first marriage, off to Constance, an idea both of them deplore equally. When Lumpkin, intercepting Marlow and Hastings at a tavern, tricks them into mistaking the Hardcastle house for an inn and its owner for a landlord, all manner of impropriety ensues – with wily Kate, realising Marlow’s taste for a serving girl, donning a disguise and taking with alacrity to the role of barmaid, exposing the appetites behind her suitor’s stammering good manners.
 
The performances are bold and cartoonish, tapping into the Georgian practice of the winking aside and working of the crowd – and they are terrific fun. In his green frock coat, Pemberton has a froggish aspect, his face a picture of affronted dignity at the impertinent antics of the two young men. And as his spouse, Thompson is an effervescent pleasure, pop-eyed at the notion of the kind of metropolitan delights that London might hold, adopting a pseudo-genteel accent that cannot conceal her country burr, and apoplectic when all her machinations end in disaster. But it’s the youngsters that shine brightest. Kelly’s dark-eyed Kate is wonderfully clever and engaging, Jumbo’s Constance full of charm and spirit, and Hadden-Paton and Heffernan a terrific double act, Hastings the quicker-witted of the two, but both of them arrogant, intemperate and puffed up with ridiculous vanity. Perhaps best of all is Fynn’s Lumpkin, an affable rascal well aware that his doting mama has spoilt him rotten, and determined to spend his days in idleness rather than putting his very evident intelligence to any productive use. And the general mayhem is witnessed by a small army of servants whose wry expressions speak eloquently of their views on the shenanigans of their social superiors. Stuffed with good humour seasoned with tart observation, this is triumphant comedy.

 


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