Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre Marshmallow Drama

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre Marshmallow Drama

Article excerpt

She Stoops To Conquer Olivier, in rep until 21 March Happy New Old Red Lion, until 25 February An outbreak of heritage theatre at the National. She Stoops to Conquer, written by Oliver Goldsmith in 1773, is the ultimate mistaken-identity caper. A rich suitor woos his bride-to-be while under the impression that the home of his future in-laws is an upmarket inn. Boobs and blunders multiply until love triumphs and harmony is restored. This is marshmallow drama. Nothing is required of the audience but immobility and the occasional polite chortle. Jamie Lloyd's handsome production gets virtually everything right. The sets by Mark Thompson are five-star stunnahs. The 18th-century drawing room, with a baronial mantelpiece and a fireplace big enough to roast an ox, will please the most avid property-porn addict. The exterior forest scene is extraordinarily lovely. An asymmetrical composition of dark verticals and shimmering light-pools summons the eye towards the horizon with a magical simplicity and elegance.

The show's star is Sophie Thompson as the neurotic matriarch, Mrs Hardcastle.

She begins very wonkily, though. The arrival of her future son-in-law convinces her to upgrade her West Country accent into something posher and more sophisticated.

But Thompson's vowels get snagged in her consonants and she becomes unintelligible.

Even straining hard, I thought I was listening to Yoko Ono announcing train cancellations at Earl's Court. But once she settles into the role's main groove, a snooty bumpkin, she strikes gold. Her mastery seems effortless at times. She's able to control the rhythm of the entire play, and the responses of every spectator in the house, with the merest flicker of her paint-encrusted eyelashes.

Harry Hadden-Paton (Marlow) is quietly turning into one of the best light comedians we have. And that's despite his good looks.

Physical attractiveness tends to hamper a comic actor because he needs to dredge up something grotesque, silly or nightmarish to win the laughs. Hadden-Paton, against the odds, seems able to find it, and he produces a rare sort of alchemy: geeky and ridiculous but dashing and sexy, too.

A few niggles mar the production. When the prankster Tony Lumpkin pulls a fast one on Marlow, he signals his amusement by leering from a chair and stroking a stuffed rabbit.

This hat-tip to Bond villains belongs in the rehearsal room, not in the final cut. Katherine Kelly, an excellent Kate Hardcastle, disguises herself as a serving girl to seduce Marlow and she deploys the lewd and explicit acrobatics of a lap dancer. …

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