Orange Tree Blossoms with Goldsmith's Comedy
“Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no fibs. “
It is what we have come to expect of Tom Littler: superlative revivals of great plays from other centuries. Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer is a classic and transposed from the 1770s when it was written to the 1920s with Charleston dancing flappers and gay young men partying after the First World War.
Mr Richard Hardcastle (David Horovitch) is expecting a visitor, the son of an old friend, who they both hope will marry his daughter Kate Hardcastle (Tanya Reynolds). Meanwhile we have his wife Dorothy (Greta Scacchi) and her son, the product of her first marriage, the bumpkin Tony Lumpkin (Guy Hughes). Dorothy wants Tony to marry his cousin Constance Neville (Sabrina Bartlett) but neither Tony nor Constance want to comply with Dorothy’s wishes.
The play’s original title was Mistakes of a Night and it is Tony Lumpkin’s meeting with Charles Marlow and George Hastings when they are lost on the way to the Hardcastle country house which leads them astray. By way of a prank from Tony, they are directed from The Three Pigeons to a supposed inn which is really Hardcastle Hall. This results in Charles Marlow treating his intended father in law as a publican servant.
The other “mistake” on the night is that Charles Marlow is excessively shy and bashful with women of his own class, so when he first meets Kate, he doesn’t have the wit to look at her because he is so embarrassed. From Constance, George learns of their mistake in thinking Hardcastle Hall is an inn and Kate learns that Charles is considerably less shy with women of a lower class.
I think the Lumpkin comedy amuses less in this age than it maybe did in the 1770s although it does expose the social climbing of the countrywoman Dorothy Hardcastle in her sequinned flapper frock. There are songs too from Lumpkin at the Three Pigeons, where he hangs out with the pub crowd and another, as an excuse for a lovely Charleston, from Constance and George and Charles and Kate. As I type Lumpkin, I think Bumpkin but the spellcheck wants to present him as Pumpkin.
The flirtation between Marlow and Kate disguised as a barmaid is delightful. Freddie Fox and Tanya Reynolds make their scenes the highlight of the play and Freddie Fox presents a masterclass in contrasting performance with his cringing, tongue tied man in the presence of a woman from the landed gentry as opposed to his openly suggestive seduction of one from the lower classes. Of course Kate needs to see this alternative persona because on first impressions the only attribute Charles Marlow seems to lack is an interesting personality.
It is so thrilling to see Freddie, the youngest of the Fox actors with 16 years between him and his sister Emilia, playing such fine comedy, especially when you compare this role with Slow Horses’s Spider.
Tanya Reynolds too is a superb and sparkling comedienne with an occasional glance towards the audience to share her amusement at the subterfuge. There is a minor subplot involving Constance and Hastings which both actors make the best of. There is also a fine cameo from Richard Derrington as doddery Diggory, the aged manservant at Hardcastle Hall who helps himself to the punch directly from the ladle, who later besuited and hair smoothed becomes Sir Charles Marlow Senior.
The Orange Tree deserves all our support with super productions, interesting programming and not West End ticket prices. I look forward to their Northanger Abbey in January.
She Stoops to Conquer
Written by Oliver Goldsmith
Directed by Tom Littler
Director: Tom Littler
Designer: Anett Black and Neil Irish
Composer and Sound Designer: Tom Attwood
Lighting Designer: Jonathan Chan
Movement Director: Julia Cave
Running Time: Two hours 45 minutes with an interval
Booking to 13th January 2024
Orange Tree Theatre
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge
at the Orange Tree
on 25th November 2023