Reviewed by James Karas
She Stoops to Conquer receives a decent production directed by Martha Henry at the Stratford Festival.
The plot involves the old and highly reliable stunt of mistaken identity. Two young men arrive in a country house and believe that they are in an inn. The owners of the house are expecting visitors and treat the two men as guests.
Members of the company in She Stoops to Conquer. Photography by David Hou.
Oliver Goldsmith has woven some highly entertaining incidents around the mistaken identities including romantic engagements and broadly humorous scenes. All of this is set in 18th century England, in the country which means in a different world from the sophisticated society of London.
Richard Hardcastle (Joseph Ziegler) and his wife Dorothy (Lucy Peacock) are well-off country folk who clearly lack the polish and sophistication of Londoners. They are hoping that Charles Marlowe (Brad Hodder), one of the visitors from London, will marry their daughter Kate (Maev Beaty).
The other visitor is Marlowe’s friend George Hastings (Tyrone Savage) and he is enamoured of Kate’s cousin Constance (Sara Farb). The other family relative who lives in the Hardcastle mansion is Tony Lumpkin (Karack Osborne), an oaf and a practical joker.
Aside from the humour produced by Marlowe and Hastings acting like guests at an inn and the Hardcastles being quite befuddled by such unbecoming conduct, young Marlow is painfully shy with upper class ladies. He has no problem approaching the lower orders and he does so by accosting Kate Hardcastle, posing as a bar maid, with audacity and impudence.
There is no lack of talent in the director and the cast. But there is a problem. The play is set in the 18th century, in a country house which compares comically with London society. The Hardcastles are country bumpkins with a distinct accent. Ziegler and Peacock are no country bumpkins and the Ontario accent does not classify them as boorish and comical.
Lumpkin is the most boorish of all and he should be hilarious but in this production he is merely funny. Beaty makes an attractive and enjoyable Kate as she stoops to being a barmaid in order to snag Marlow.
Savage and Hodder, dressed smartly like true gentlemen, cut fine figures as the two suitors and Farb is an attractive and delightful Constance.
The numerous servants are nicely exaggerated to produce laughter and they do.
The set by Douglas Paraschuk revolves to show the interiors and exterior of the Hardcastle mansion as well as the interior of the pub. A Beautifully done and impressive design. The costumes by Charlotte Dean are high class 18th century attire and, again, quite beautiful.
The fundamental problem is that many Canadian actors cannot master an English accent and even more so when a differentiation between country and city is required. Henry chose the easy route of letting the cast speak in their native accent rather than trying to produce English regional accents with probably disastrous results.
There were laughs but this is not the production of She Stoops that one would kill for. That is clearly the approach of a purist and if you don’t care about details like that you will enjoy a very fine comedy. It is an exaggeration to say that watching this production was like kissing through a fence – you get the message but not all the fun – but it is not far from the truth.