She stoops and then stumbles

She Stoops to Conquer; Oliver Goldsmith, Arts Theatre Cambridge until Saturday This is one of those plays that's always being put on somewhere, be it by the professionals or even school performers.

Ivan Howlett

She Stoops to Conquer; Oliver Goldsmith, Arts Theatre Cambridge until Saturday

This is one of those plays that's always being put on somewhere, be it by the professionals or even school performers. Jonathan Munby's production featuring Lisa Goddard and Colin Baker is the second to be put on in East Anglia during the last couple of years. The other was the fine home-grown version at the Mercury Theatre Colchester.

Oliver Goldsmith's rollicking and always popular play, bubbling with the energy of a Hogarth cartoon , entangles lots of elements. What sets it up is the initial duping of two self-possessed city gents by country folk . They are directed to a private house, having been tricked into thinking it's an inn. From that moment on, one of them at least - Marlow (played by Matthew Douglas) makes a complete fool of himself.


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All sort of aspects of eighteenth century life come under comic scrutiny. The marriage game in which matches are made for titles, money, or property, courtship etiquette, lies and their consequences - and we can even laugh with some simple country servant folk.

The two funniest conceits are the mistaking Mr Hardcastle for an innkeeper, and the sheer stuttering timidity of Marlowe when talking to woman of his own class. This contrasts with his unbridled forwardness if he thinks the woman is a barmaid. Kate Hartcastle (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) has to do all the courting even if it means pretending to be that barmaid.

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I am wondering why, after a while, I was finding Marlow (not the actor's fault) almost too much of a twit to bear. Possibly, it's that at 2 hours and 50 minutes, the play needed pruning.

The best things in the show are Colin Baker's irate Hardcastle, spitting fire because his friend's son is ordering him around his own house as if it were an inn. Also Lisa Goddard's bewigged and painted Mrs Hardcastle, who with a West Midlands accent, more than deserves being traipsed through the mud.

Dorothea Myer-Bennett is top-notch, both as Kate and as the usher who took my ticket at the door. The production's overall conceit is the row before the show between the theatre usher and her dreadfully shy boyfriend who, after their spat, duck behind the curtain and become the would-be lovers in Goldsmith's play. This prologue was specially written by Bryony Lavery.

Somehow, though, the show didn't quite come off for me. The production rather fell between exuberance and discipline.

Ivan Howlett

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