Many seasons ago, I watched Alan Scarfe’s Tony Lumpkin bounce Amelia Hall across the Festival Stage in a memorable rendition of “She Stoops to Conquer”. It brought the house down and the laughter continued non-stop for the entire evening. I couldn’t wait to see this play again, this time at Stratford’s Avon stage. Curiously, there was a dearth of laughs, even though this show was directed by the gifted Martha Henry, and contained a talented cast. It was as if the audience was put into stasis and was missing Oliver Goldsmith’s wonderful comic moments. I am led to believe that the cast will connect better in future, both with the audience and among themselves but opening night was strangely quiet.
Picture a young aristocrat who ploughs furrows through lower-class women but freezes into mumbling denseness when addressing women of his own class. Young Christopher Marlowe cannot become a complete man until Kate Hardcastle sees his worth and stoops in class to become a servant and more accessible to his wooing. As the heroine, Maev Beaty presents a wonderful Kate, and Sara Farb is a delight as her friend Constance, who is pledged to a booby and longs for Marlowe’s good friend Hastings. The two men are told that Kate’s home is actually a country inn and the mistakes of a night begin in full.
Kate’s mother and father, played broadly by Lucy Peacock and Joseph Ziegler, provide some of the evening’s fun. Ms. Peacock is likely to find even funnier moments with her emergence from the Horse Pond, and Ziegler could get even bigger laughs with stronger reactions to the invasion of his domicile. The mischief of Tony Lumpkin, a born prankster, keeps the evening rolling along and the production benefits from very good sets on a double-revolve. I am convinced that this show will get better and better because of the material and the quality cast that brings it to the stage.
Written by: Ric Wellwood