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She Stoops to Conquer

She Stoops to Conquer


Orange Tree Theatre

SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER at the Orange Tree Theatre


She Stoops to Conquer“It is the sharp wit and intelligence of the language that sustains the piece and cushions it from the risk of being labelled dated”

Oliver Goldsmith’s period comedy, “She Stoops to Conquer”, was first performed in London a quarter of a millennium ago, but is still very much alive among today’s canon of revivals. Initially titled ‘Mistakes of a Night’ it is indeed a comedy of errors. Goldsmith himself dubbed it a ‘laughing comedy’ while others referred to it as a ‘comedy of manners’ or a ‘romantic comedy’. The stress is repeatedly on the word ‘comedy’ – as the laughs from the audience at Tom Littler’s festive revival testify.

It is the sharp wit and intelligence of the language that sustains the piece and cushions it from the risk of being labelled dated. Littler’s production shifts it from the eighteenth century into a 1930s country manor deep in the heart of P. G. Wodehouse land. Tucked away in the English countryside we find Mr and Mrs Hardcastle; the former relishing the quiet, old-fashioned lifestyle while his wife longs to untuck herself and see the new things happening up in the big city. Instead, the city comes to them in the form of two raffish slickers – Charles Marlow and George Hastings. Marlow has been invited as a prospective match for the Hardcastle’s daughter, Kate, while Hastings is in tow to pursue Kate’s cousin Constance, who in turn is being reluctantly matched by Mrs Hardcastle to her prankster son Tony. Courtesy of Tony’s mischievousness, the two gents arrive mistaking the country house for an inn.

The main butt of the satire is class divide, emphasised by the way the characters treat one another depending on the (often mistaken) perception of their social standing. The text calls for a heightened degree of acting, which the formidable cast deliver without ever overdoing it. Greta Scacchi pitches just the right amount of affectation into her flame haired Mrs Hardcastle, as gaudy as the baubles with which she adorns the Christmas tree. Scacchi manages to parody and show off her privilege simultaneously, with a cut glass accent in need of a good polishing. David Horovitch is the perfect foil as her bumbling crank of a husband, delightfully and playfully outraged at the slightest threat to his authority and standing. Tanya Reynolds, as Kate, effectively has a dual role, spending much of the time pretending to be the lowly barmaid she is mistaken for. A comic talent, showcased in a glorious scene where she tries on various accents for her alter ego. Guy Hughes is a real find as Tony, the one who instigates all the misunderstandings. His veil of bumpkin buffoonery shields an intelligent rascal, but one with a good heart.

But the one everybody is looking out for is Freddie Fox. One moment eloquently flirtatious, the next a nervous, tongue-tied wreck. A lithe performance, Fox effortlessly switches between the two sides of Marlow, eking out the hypocrisy of the class system but – more strikingly – drawing out the laughs from an audience that hangs on his every word and nuance. Robert Mountford’s Hastings and Sabrina Bartlett’s Constance add a delightful extra layer of farce as the ‘will-they-won’t-they’ couple. Bartlett, in particular, lighting up the stage with her presence.

The performances and, of course, Goldsmith’s script are what drive this comedy through what would otherwise be a fairly safe revival. Anett Black and Neil Irish’s setting has the comfortable warmth of a well-heeled family Christmas, transforming not entirely successfully into the local pub. And we get the feeling sometimes that the sense of privilege is enjoyed too much rather than lampooned. But these sentiments are quickly knocked aside by the stream of laughs. Sometimes gentle, sometimes farcical. The festive setting might be a touch opportunist, but it is bang on target, and we leave the auditorium uplifted and ready to embrace the joys of Christmas.

SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER at the Orange Tree Theatre

Reviewed on 22nd November 2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Marc Brenner



Previously reviewed at this venue:

The Swell | ★★★★ | June 2023
Duet For One | ★★★★ | February 2023
The Solid Life Of Sugar Water | ★★★★★ | October 2022
Two Billion Beats | ★★★½ | February 2022
While the Sun Shines | ★★★★ | November 2021
Rice | ★★★★ | October 2021

She Stoops to Conquer

She Stoops to Conquer

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Company – 5 Stars



Gielgud Theatre

Reviewed – 17th October 2018


“the beauty of this musical (a real showcase of some of Sondheim’s finest numbers) is that the songs do not eclipse the characters”


A lot has been made of the gender swapping element of Marianne Elliott’s ground breaking production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company”. By his own admission, Sondheim was initially unsure that he wanted it to happen. His reservations were understandable: all too often you see theatre where the protagonist has been made female and it doesn’t always work. It is to Elliott’s credit that he was persuaded to allow it (such was Sondheim’s faith in her) and the result is a brilliantly up to date reimagining of the work.

It seems that few alterations have been made to George Furth’s book. There are the obvious pronoun substitutions and lyrical changes, yet it is a seamless transformation – it is easy to forget that this version isn’t how it was originally written. Although it is radical, it doesn’t feel it. It feels natural and poignantly relevant, which is the ultimate compliment. Leave any preconceptions and debate at the door and just revel in the astonishing gorgeousness of this production.

In the absence of any real plot it relies on the sharp dialogue and characterisation and, of course, Sondheim’s inimitable score. Each song is a vignette – a stand-alone moment, but wedded to the narrative and given a sparkle of confetti by Bunny Christie’s ingenious ‘Alice in Wonderland’ design.

Rosalie Craig plays Bobbie, the single, independent woman, as a bewildered onlooker; surveying the inexplicable bargaining, bickering, compromises, trade-offs, understandings and misunderstandings of her friends’ marriages. She perfectly treads the path from amused derision through to a longing to be part of this weird world of wedded ‘bliss’. The dichotomy is heightened coming from the perspective of a woman aware of her biological clock ticking away on her thirty-fifth birthday. There is a spellbinding routine where Liam Steel’s choreography has four identically dressed versions of Bobbie appear to her in a dream as spirits of her future self; stuck in a clockwork loop of morose matrimony and motherhood. Craig gives a performance that will surely make her a West End fixture for quite some time.

But she is in good company. It is a show full of star turns. Jonathan Bailey showers the audience with the impossibly quick-fire lyrics of “Getting Married Today” with the lung capacity of a free-diver. George Blagden, Richard Fleeshman and Matthew Seadon-Young, as Bobbie’s three potential boyfriends offer a gloriously fresh take on “You Could Drive a Person Crazy”. Patti Lupone’s “The Ladies Who Lunch” is an unforgettable cry of self-deprecatory discontent. But the beauty of this musical (a real showcase of some of Sondheim’s finest numbers) is that the songs do not eclipse the characters. Mel Giedroyc and Gavin Spokes as the abstemious argumentative couple in denial, Daisy Maywood and Ashley Campbell as the happily divorced couple, Jennifer Saayeng and Richard Henders as the doped-up, straight-laced couple are all hilarious yet touching (my word count is cautioning me to be self-editing here). The entire piece comes with an immense sense of fun, without losing any of the emotive power. Craig’s solos; “Someone Is Waiting”, “Marry Me a Little” and, of course “Being Alive”, are achingly pure and heartfelt.

The friends that surround Bobbie repeatedly urge her to find somebody who will take care of her. “But who will I take of?” she responds. I think it’s safe to say that the success of this show is well and truly taken care of. I hope nothing is booked into the Gielgud Theatre for the foreseeable future.

Craig’s Bobbie bookends many of the scenes with the simple, singular word ‘Wow’. I left the theatre with the same word resounding in my head. Sondheim’s musical and Elliott’s production is a perfect match.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Brinkhoff Mogenburg



Gielgud Theatre until 30th March


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