(Rated 4/5 )
I studied this play at school and remember feeling really strongly for the characters. Coming from a middle class background I had a kind of innate rejection of people who put on airs or consider themselves better than others because of money or career status. That may sound strange but the previous generation of my family had struggled and worked really hard for their money. So the concept of someone from a higher class stooping to a lower class to win love was somehow romantic and comfortable for me. And who was the heroine, Kate Hardcastle, doing that for? Marlow was also of an upper class but very shy with women from his own class. He was only able to be himself with those of a class lower than himself. Oddly perhaps I could, and still can, really identify with that. I lost my power and myself with those of my supposed class and always felt far more drawn to those without plums in their mouths, who talked ‘common’, who were not of high IQ but rather EQ. And I was extremely shy and feeling that meant I would not get a boyfriend. So there’s the empathy – or rather sympathy – right there. I would have loved someone to step down from his higher power status to conquer my shyness and win me. I could really relate to Marlow’s lack of confidence in love. And I coveted Kate’s self-assurance.
Oliver Goldsmith’s 18th century script plays on all these ideas that people allowed to control their lives at the time – issues around class, power, manners and morals - and was extremely daring. He wrote about people as they are, and not falsely how they ought to be, and mocked them.
The play, as its alternative title The Mistakes of a Night suggests, hinges on many mistaken happenings and people deceiving each other. This device is used so often in plays of that time and of course, in Shakespearean comedy, that it does feel a little dated and predictable. But that’s fine when the production and performances are as good as in this case. I could forgive it the over-long 3 hours – well just about – hence one point off perfect in my score.
Nobody fell short in this production, which makes it hard to pick out those who stood out. I almost feel it’s a matter of taste rather than one actor being ‘better’ or not. I have seen Sophie Thompson before in only a few roles; the biggest impression she made on me was in playing abusive Stella in Eastenders and unfortunately it wasn’t a good impression as I didn’t believe her in the role. This time, if you’ll forgive the pun, she was deliciously stellar and really shone out, carrying the show in her portrayal of Kate’s mother, Mrs Hardcastle. She was extremely amusing and very natural in Mrs Hardcastle’s absurdity. The surprise draw for me was John Hefferman as Marlow’s friend Hastings. With a smile that lifted the heart so convincingly you couldn’t fail to smile with him, he constantly promised to break out into a chuckle and was enormous fun to watch. I’d been very much looking forward to seeing Katherine Kelly as Kate Hardcastle. As her Coronation Street co-star David Nielson said, she is something very special. Becky Granger was one of the most outstanding empathy-inducing soap characters ever and Katherine superbly conveyed the rollercoater of behaviours and emotions triggered by Becky’s event-loaded journey on the Corrie cobbles. My only disappointment in her as Kate Hardcastle was that the role didn’t test her full dramatic range. But her sensitivity and sense of comedy was impeccable – she sparkled.
The set and costumes were impressive and amusing in their authenticity. There’s such a sense that this period of time was empirically farcical.
P.S. For those with disability of the lower limbs it’s worth noting that there are many flights of stairs to climb to The Olivier Theatre. You may like to take the lift. The seats are very comfortable. And the setting – The South Bank – is a personal favourite of mine.
She Stoops to Conquer – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2012