She Stoops to Conquer

She Stoops to Conquer, by Oliver Goldsmith, was directed by Katie Lipsidge and was performed at the Edward Alleyn Theatre, Dulwich College, from 16th to 18th July, 2015.

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Review by Lorraine Greenslade

The Dulwich Players summer production this year, ‘She Stoops to Conquer’ by Oliver Goldsmith , was performed at The Edward Alleyn Theatre, a change from the customary outdoor summer Shakespeare productions.

Theatre in the Mid 18th century thrived on the London scene. The two theatres, Covent Garden and Drury Lane, were popular and well attended by both the nobility and the townsfolk. David Garrick was the actor-manager and his patronage was eagerly sought by both actors and writers.

Oliver Goldsmith, a young Irishman, came to London to seek his fortune and after dabbling in various professions tried writing and became the first of many of his countrymen to take up the quill pen! After the rejection of his first play in 1768, ’The Good Natured Man’ he finally managed, with the encouragement of the great Dr Johnson, to successfully stage ‘She Stoops to Conquer’ in 1773.

This clever comedy has proved a pattern for English farce through the years that followed.  The alternative title was, ‘The Mistakes of a Night’! Ordinary people caught in mistakes not of their own making; mistaken identity, mistaken location and the inability to understand, piles on the difficulties and puzzlement until all is finally explained – happily for everyone.

This was quite a challenge for modern actors; period costumes and wigs to be worn, a different body language for both men and women and characterisations to be worked upon.  This team of actors managed well; the elderly father, Hardcastle, proud of his own domain, his elderly wife who wishes to remain ever youthful – to the chagrin of her son, Tony Lumpkin, who wants to come of age and claim his inheritance and who doesn’t recognise his mother’s pretence.

The plot is lengthy and complications multiply throughout. It is Kate Hardcastle, the daughter of the house, who realising Marlow, her father’s choice , is a shy young man, ill-at-ease with upper class women, dons a house-keepers garb and ‘Stoops to Conquer’.  But only after reassuring herself that that Marlow is indeed the man for her! This aim, after many difficulties and surprises, she accomplishes and in the process helps her cousin Constance gain happiness with her own suitor, Hastings.

One feels that the play would have benefited from a Proscenium Stage as the space provided was rather too large and the production would have been helped if some of the action had been brought closer.  Some characters were inclined to wander too far forward which did not help to preserve the acting area. However it is understood that the theatre no longer has a faculty for a Proscenium stage, as in the past.

The company worked hard and the director, Kate Lipsidge and her team are to be congratulated on what is a difficult play and they created an interesting and entertaining evening.

Characterisations were good and the actors played together as a first-rate ensemble group.  The Servants and Tavern dwellers were suitably riotous and entertaining and sang with great gusto.

What next for The Dulwich Players? Ben Johnson? “See How They Run?” More farces will keep us on the ‘Bright Side of Life!’