Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Confusion reigns supreme

cast of she stoops to conquer

She stoops to conquer

Dudley Little Theatre

Netherton Arts Centre


OLIVER Goldsmith’s classic 18th century comedy is a witty farce with mistaken identities, mix-ups, asides to the audience and a satire on manners and social mores of the time, all laced with belly laughs rather than the polite amusement of comedies prevalent in 1773 when it first appeared.

In short it is a romp and by and large this production succeeds in achieving that.

The tale is simple. Mr Hardcastle is a country gentleman who prefers the old traditional ways rather than the new fangled manners of London some 60 miles away.

He has a pretty daughter Kate, perhaps the only normal character in the entire play, who he wishes to marry off to young Charles Marlow, eligible son of an old friend, Sir Charles Marlow, a young man who becomes timid and tongue tied in the company of upper class women, only becoming himself among the low bred.

Thus he only shows his feelings for Kate when he thinks she is a serving wench. kate

Meanwhile Mr Hardcastle’s wife Dorothy is aching to go to Hardcastle’s hated London and tries at third and fourth hand news from town to keep up with the latest fashion.

Her son by a previous marriage is Tony Lumpkin, a fat, ale-swilling country playboy-cum-bumpkin whose life consists of practical jokes, The Three pigeons pub and Bette Bouncer, one of its ladies of pleasure whose attributes, in Lumpkin’s telling, appear to resemble arthritic hands

Jane Williams as Kate Hardcastle who has to stoop to being a barmaid to conquer Marlow

Marlow arrives with his friend George Hastings who is in love with Mrs Hardcastle’s niece Constance Neville, who Dorothy is determined will marry Lumpkin, despite the fact the pair hate each other.

As Marlow and Hastings arrive late at night and lost, joker Lumpkin sends them off to Hardcastle Hall telling them it is The Buck’s Head, the finest inn in the county. Let the confusion begin.

Tony Stamp is a wonderful Hardcastle, a gentleman comfortable in his standing and situation with few airs and graces. His country accent is not only consistent but sounds authentic and his performance is matched by Jean Potter as his wife Dorothy who, made up white faced as she thinks might be the current way in town, shows all the affectation of someone displaying the airs and manners of one learning  and interpreting the latest fashions through correspondence and magazines.

Jane Williams, as Kate, has that ability of 18th century women of class to almost glide across the stage and shows a nice distinction between her rather demure, refined self a Kate and the more rough and ready Kate the supposed barmaid.

Ellis Daker’s Lumpkin is . . . well a good-for-nothing lump, a character it is difficult to like, but who raises a smile through his delinquent antics. He shows some nice touches and glances to the audience.

James Silvers gives us a Marlow who is a straight man to the farce around him as he treats Hardcastle as an innkeeper and is mortified when he knows the truth, goes into a confidence meltdown with Kate and comes out of he shell when he thinks she is the barmaid.

Constance is played be Claire Hetherington and has a nice line in affectionately beating the living daylights out of Lumpkin whenever she sees him.

And then there is Phil Sheffield whose slightly foppish, upper class Hastings was only part of his contribution as he is the man responsible, along with Jenny Stanley, for the magnificent costukate and marlowmes which gave the whole play a look of authenticity. Every character from leads to the scene shifting, singing prostitutes looked the part; a valuable feature which gives any play a flying start.

The discomfort of Marlow, played by James Silvers, in the company of upper class women, here in the shape of Kate, is palpable

It was helped as well by a good yet simple set which transformed easily between the Hardcastle’s house and The Three Pigeons pub and back again with a particularly imaginative family portraits to barrels arrangement. A similar arrangement on a larger scale was used to represent the Hardcastle's garden – although closing the rear stage curtains completely when creating an instant backdrop for the garden might be an improvement.

Andrew Rock, the director, kept things moving along and where there were short breaks for set changes they were filled by the army of supporting cast, the drunks, prostitutes, servants and pub landlord who turned scene changes into a musical with songs of the time – music for one incidentally written by Tony Stamp. It made what could have been pace-killing pauses into delightful, colourful interludes sung with commendable gusto.

As a play it is a challenge for any actor. The speeches are often long and in a language which might have been the common parlance in drawing rooms of the 1770s but is quaint, archaic, unnatural and the devil’s own job to learn 250 years on.

And that perhaps was where the first night faltered at times with too many prompts required and a little too much fumbling for words. When it was good it was very good but pace and flow inevitably suffered with each halting moment lengthening an already substantial play.

It was a performance which showed an awful lot of work has gone in from the cast of 14 and with first night now behind them, Mary O’Toole, the excellent prompt, should be able to look forward to a quieter life in the wings for the rest of the run. And that, in turn, will mean an increase in the pace which will help give this comedy classic its natural rhythm.

On opening night it was almost there, and was certainly close enough to predict its teething troubles will be ironed out over the rest of the run.

Roger Clarke


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