She Stoops to Conquer



First performed in 1773 with Goldsmith’s aim of bringing comedy back to the fore after more sombre fare, this is a play which has stood the test of time and much of it still relevant. Think of John Osborne and his ‘kitchen sink’ gritty dramas pushing Noël Coward and his ilk out of favour, later to be back in fashion.
Old fashioned country gentleman Mr Hardcastle bemoans the fact that London folk were infiltrating the country villages, bringing their pretensions and affectations with them, and disillusionment with government is also high on his list—sound familiar?
Creative Cow has rightly treated this play as a glorious romp, and as laughter is supposed to be the best medicine we should all feel the better for it, especially with Amanda Knott keeping the production at a cracking pace with comical misunderstandings falling over each other.
Life-sized picture frames are used to create various scenes of doorways, corridors or a country inn, and the cast whisk all the scenery and props around, at one point causing a lot of laughter when the trees seen in the grounds outside rise up, march to the front of the stage and re-arrange themselves to join the horse pond.
The rather complicated plot revolves around the machinations of Mrs Hardcastle’s son Tony Lumpkin (previous marriage) played as if born to the role by recent graduate Joe Bateman, making his professional debut. Indulged by his mother, who believes he has no need of an education to spend the fortune he will inherit, his stepfather regards him as a spoilt oaf and dislikes his habit of frequenting the low-life of The Three Pigeons and of playing practical jokes, but Toby is not as silly and self-indulgent as he at first appears.
In act 1, we are told a lot about what to expect from the play with the ‘double act’ of the Hardcastles’ affectionate argument, mostly addressed to the audience and with great expressions to match, and with Katherine Senior in terrific form as the manipulative matriarch and David Summer her realistic husband.
We are told a lot more when learning that Marlow, reluctantly coming to pay court to daughter Kate Hardcastle, is a stammering shy wreck with fashionable ladies but a rampant rogue with woman of lower class. When he and friend Hastings come across Tony at the Three Pigeons, he directs them, with great glee, to the Hardcastle house, telling them it is an inn where they can spend the night, and the fun and complications begin.
They treat their bewildered host appallingly, demanding to be waited on, totally ignoring his polite efforts at conversation, a scenario made all the funnier because we know what’s going on and they don’t.
Leonie Spilsbury is a delightful Kate with Polly Hughes her attractive (rather fast-talking) cousin in love with Hastings (Jonathan Parish). George Jennings is either annoyingly arrogant or painfully shy as Marlow and Steve Jacobs is everyone else. All performances first class.
Some of the costumes are a little unexpected: hooped skirts without the skirt and bloomers proudly shown. I wonder how that would have gone down with 18th century audiences.
This mixture of social satire and farcical comedy with a couple of love stories thrown in, not to mention comic song and carousing in the pub, is a real ‘something for everyone’ treat. Great fun.

The Stage

by Anne Broom

Gilded picture frames flamboyantly set off this rich comic gem, instantly placing the story’s fulsome and decorative characters in period context. Inventively deployed in Creative Cow’s fine revival of Goldsmith’s classic play, they enhance entrances, capture intimate conversations and hide eavesdroppers.

Played at a swift pace and with a light touch, with dialogue clearly articulated, the comedy throughout Goldsmith’s play - initially entitled The Mistakes of a Night - is played through to its final, happy resolution. Scenes are changed with period courtesy and action is underpinned by jaunty music. With exquisitely choreographed movement, this entertaining and clever production once again bears all the hallmarks of artistic director Amanda Knott’s imaginative work.

Young ladies are elegant in stylised costume; beribboned skeleton hoops give saucy glimpses of lace-trimmed pantaloons. With an assured and confident manner and innate comedy timing, Katherine Senior is a well-judged Mrs Hardcastle, her impressive wig - adorned with jewelled butterflies, flowers and ostrich feathers - making its own statement. Capturing the requisite period style, elegant hands express eloquent gesture. Live music, jollity and raucous song enliven the scene set in the Three Pigeons alehouse, while a forest of fir trees takes the action outdoors.

Polly Hughes is captivating and mischievous as Constance, while Leonie Spilsbury captures Kate’s coquettish charm, with David Summer as her father, the bemused Mr Hardcastle. Making their mark in a professional debut, Joe Bateman is a boisterous, good-natured Tony Lumpkin, with George Jennings as the shy, tongue-tied Marlow. Jonathan Parish is elegant and credible as Hastings, while Steve Jacobs completes a strong and energetic ensemble.


She Stoops to ConquerOliver Goldsmith’s ‘She Stoops To Conquer' or more intelligibly Mistakes of a Night because this is what we see and there are heaps of mistakes, parents misunderstanding children’s desires, strangers misreading others’ characters or social status and all these as the plot progresses gradually boil down to Young Marlowe’s not appreciating where he is residing.

It is a well-known and often played comedy and one of the few still enjoyable plays of the eighteenth century so I need not extol its virtues. What needs repeating is the admirable work of Amanda Knott’s Creative Cow, a company of sustained quality led vivaciously by Katherine Senior as a much derided and abused Mrs Hardcastle and Jonathan Parish as the successful Hastings.

If you have never seen this play, this production is one to enjoy, one of the gems of English Drama, in a simple practical set with bustling music and an exposition quickly presented. The charmingly ridiculous nature of wooing and the final reconciliation of all parties allow the audience to leave with a blessing.

Do support this excellent Creative Cow this week at the Yvonne Arnaud theatre; the programme has a clear synopsis for anyone who likes to know in advance what is going to happen and indeed the production a little resembles a homely comprehensible opera without song (except for Tony Lumpkin’s rendering in the Three Pigeons). Mrs Hardcastle has her own measure of it with “…like the whining end of a modern novel”.

The house was full and everyone content.

HEREFORD NEWS By John Phillpott  .

She Stoops to Conquer/Malvern Theatres

IT was a neat touch to scatter original articles from an 18th century magazine in the programme for this play. 

A simple move, yet it opened up a small window on the Georgian literary psyche, preparing us for what was to come via the glorious language that flowed so effortlessly from the pen of Oliver Goldsmith.

It is a form of both spoken and written English that appears almost absurdly ornate today, flowery in the extreme.

Yet has an undeniable beauty - and all the more so when in the hands of a supremely talented cast that skilfully keeps the momentum going throughout what is perhaps a rather long performance.

It is 1773, a time when elegance – or inelegance - of diction indicated one’s standing in society. And therein lies the nub of this ultimate comedy of manners, a dramatic genre that would probably have been lost to time had it not been for this evergreen work. 

And directed by Amanda Knott, this production deftly taps into an age when etiquette was everything, reputations made or ruined by the simple act of opening one’s mouth.

The proceedings start in fine form with David Summer’s uproarious portrayal of country squire Mr Hardcastle, keen to ensure his daughter Kate (Leonie Spilsbury) weds the son of an old military mucker from his days of campaigning with Marlborough.

Marlow (George Jennings) is the young gentleman in question, a would-be rake more at ease with alehouse wenches than ladies of breeding. And it is this flaw in his character that provides the running joke throughout the evening, ably assisted by the hysterical Mrs Hardcastle, played with glorious hyperactivity by Katherine Senior.

No period play would be complete without the resident fool. But in this case we have very much more than your usual village idiot, courtesy of Joe Bateman as Tony Lumpkin, a conniving coxcomb of a clown who careers effortlessly from rowdy tavern to sedate drawing room. 

It says a lot for the power of Oliver Goldsmith’s pen that this classic has travelled so well down the intervening centuries, the passage of years sapping none of the work’s power to amuse.
She Stoops to Conquer is a Creative Cow production and runs until Saturday (June 14).