Yesterday evening’s weather put UC’s annual garden play at a disadvantage. There was the inevitable fear of rain, and the audience were afraid to laugh in case they swallowed a midge. Despite this, Carolina Grierson powered through her opening monologue, setting the stage for a determinedly comic and enjoyable evening.
The play portrays a farcical mix of mixed identities, sexual misunderstandings and class satire, a comic feast that the cast happily devoured. The booming voice, gaping mouth and enormous wig of Charles Mondelli identified a masterly comic actor. His scene-stealing performance often drew attention away from his wife, played by Kathryn Smith. Her performance took a more shrewish, contemporary tone that occasionally jarred with her husband (top marks for the mobcap, though, and all the lustrous costumes for that matter). Their son Tony, played by Jordan Reed, made a lacklustre first appearance, but from his second entrance on he became a highlight of the show, displaying a winning baritone voice and an excellent comic rapport with the audience. Their four servants presented an excellent team; particular notice should go to Joseph Prentice’s beaming and devoted Diggory.
However, these figures are only the background to the play. The central plot (and sub-plot) of She Stoops to Conquer revolves around the courtship of Kate Hardcastle (Josephine Glover) and Charles Marlowe (Oliver Roth), whilst Marlowe’s friend Hastings (Andrew Dickinson) simultaneously tries to elope with Kate’s cousin Constance (Shahbano Soomro). Roth and Dickinson made a weak start as a camp pair of posh Englishmen. However, like Reed their performances improved dramatically, revealing a true bond of friendship between the characters. Individually, Roth was less successful – Marlowe is frequently described as two-faced: to upper-class women he is awkward and apologetic, but with social inferiors he is an active and compelling seducer. Whilst Roth excelled in the first role, with a cracking voice and stiff posture, he seemed insincere in the second. Dickinson was a standout, juggling the dual roles of ardent lover and successful comic with grace and ingenuity. Together the boys frequently outshone the two girls. Glover’s prim performance initially felt monotonous, until the character disguised herself as a barmaid, allowing Glover greater success as a coquettish heroine. Soomro often seemed uncomfortable with the text, but her devotion to Hastings was evident and touching.
Elisabeth Watts’ direction was efficient and entertaining, mining the script for humour and sentiment with equal success. Arguably, the major comic revelations of the tale needed more emphasis, as the play’s overall shape occasionally felt lost. But if the final applause was weak, it’s only because our hands were cold. The University Players are an outstanding troupe and a pleasure to watch.
PHOTO / Max Shock