Frankie Goodway reviews She Stoops to Conquer at the Keble O’Reilly Theatre.
The Trinity Players have chosen a cracking script for their garden play. She Stoops to Conquer is an eighteenth century comedy that invites an audience to chuckle at the misfortunes of two London dandies when they mistake the house they’ve been invited to for an inn. It’s exactly the light-hearted fare one expects from a garden production, but at the same time it’s a very demanding play.
I saw the first two acts, which devote more time to introducing the characters and the situation than pure comedy and it was clear how finely tuned the direction and acting had to be. Every character has the potential to appear appalling, foolish, or completely absurd, (sometimes all three) and it takes skill to stop performances veering off into the unlikable.
Fortunately, the cast have talent in spades. Special mention goes to Thomas Olver, whose performance as Mr Marlow rises to sheer brilliance in Act Two, through his alternating brash and modest episodes. Olver voices the inarticulation of Marlow superbly, and had me snorting through his scenes. Sara Ahmed, as Marlow’s would-be-wife, balances Olver’s massive stage presence with a well-crafted performance that quickly affirms her as an extremely likeable heroine. She’s enchantingly frivolous but witty enough to run circles round her parents, played by Maude Morrison and Andy Butler. Morrison clearly has a lot of fun as the melodramatic Mrs Hardcastle, and invites you to have it with her, though occasionally her affected accents slip.
Lucinda Smart and Nick Fanthorpe also acquit themselves well in less sensational roles as the second pair of lovers, Miss Neville and Mr Hastings, though Smart could use a little more precision in her posture and movement to match her spot on facial expressions. Overall, both are very earnest and endearing, and clearly well cast. Hugh Macfarlane as the reprobate stepson Tony Lumpkin could also use a bit more direction, largely just to slow down and exploit more of the character’s charisma – he was at his best when acting drunk. Across the cast there are occasional drops in accents, most of which aim for broad ‘rustic’, and the more obscure jokes need punchier delivery if an audience is to understand the wit behind them (or at least laugh at it anyway).
At the same time however there are some lovely quiet jokes played out in the background of scenes – at one point four lewd drinking buddies happily claim to share the same bed without anyone on stage batting an eyelid. There’s an attention to detail across the whole production that shows care, dedication, and an excellent understanding of the play. “Humour, my dear, nothing but humour,” Mr Hardcastle promises his wife at the play’s opening, and with a play and a cast so well matched, I believe that promise can be thoroughly fulfilled.
Four stars ****