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She Stoops To Conquer Reviewed: The National

Joan Davies admires as ex-Corrie actress Katharine Kelly, takes classic in her stride

Published on February 26th 2012.

She Stoops To Conquer Reviewed: The National

THE wealthy Hardcastle is hopeful of marrying daughter Kate to his old pal’s son. Unfortunately young Marlow is painfully shy in the company of women of his own rank, despite being charming and relaxed, to put it politely, with women of lesser rank.

Conveniently he is duped into mistaking the Hardcastle home for a local inn and daughter Kate for the barmaid, enraging the father but bewitching the daughter. I guess you can guess the ending.  

Goldsmith’s clever construction allows a choice of interpretation; characters own interests’ happily eventually coincide with the interests of others.

Director Jamie Lloyd and the large cast of Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer give us a warm-hearted, full-blooded production of this well-loved comedy, first performed in 1773. 

All theatrical eyes, and a good few soap ones too, are on this production. Is there life after soap-stardom for Katherine Kelly who has recently left her role as eventually-loved character Becky, barmaid in Coronation Street

The road from RADA to The National Theatre is well-trodden, though rarely does it pass along the fictional cobbles of Weatherfield’s Coronation Street.  She now makes her National Theatre debut in She Stoops to Conquer where, as the privileged Kate Hardcastle, she stoops to disguise herself as a barmaid in order to catch her man.  

The production, firmly set in its late-eighteenth-century period, but with touches of twenty first century body-language and specially composed music to point the modern relevancies, is highly entertaining and suggests simple questions about how we value people, society and wealth. 

She Stoops

Cush Jumbo, recently seen at the Royal Exchange as Rosalind in As You Like It and as Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion, is entrancing and confident as Constance, and she’s matched by a warm engaging performance from John Heffernan who, as her lover and accomplice Hastings, builds a strong rapport with the audience and ensures their story, essentially second pair of lovers, in almost as important as that of the number one pair. 

Katherine Kelly gives an assured performance as the dutiful daughter ready to embark on new journeys in life. Luckily Marlow is attractive enough for her to remain dutiful to her father’s wishes, and she does so with relish. Harry Hadden-Paton’s Marlow is a delight, accentuating the contrast between the tongue-tied reluctant suitor and rampant charmer; you can feel the pain and almost smell the testosterone.

The most outlandish performance, the range within the cast from snippets of naturalism to almost pantomime attention-seeking a deliberate choice which adds further layers to the entertainment, comes from Sophie Tompson as Mrs Hardcastle. 

Almost too over-the-top at times for some, it nevertheless draws genuine appreciation from much of the audience and gave some of the later plot lines a high degree of plausibility. 

She Stoops

Steve Pemberton, known for his contribution to The League of Gentlemen, plays her husband.  He carries much of the task of keeping the audience up to speed with essentials, and lifts the essential lines. 

An excellent performance from David Flynn, brings us an eventually likeable Tony Lumpkin.  As at home in the twenty-first century as the eighteenth he’s recognisable as one spoilt to his own detriment by his mother, but not totally irredeemable.  

The longevity of She Stoops to Conquer is said to owe much to that fact it takes a good-natured view of people, without succumbing into sentimentality, and at the same time questions the airs and graces so often unquestioningly regarded as signs of good character.

Goldsmith’s clever construction allows a choice of interpretation; characters own interests’ happily eventually coincide with the interests of others.

Lumpkin is typical; hating the idea of the match to cousin Constance proposed by this mother he is happy to serve Constance’s interests as well as his own by doing all he can to promote the match with Hastings.  Flynn has us enjoying his conversion from selfish oaf to considerate tactician, but still leaving us room for doubt.   

The Olivier stage is impressive. Basically set within a cavernous space on a revolve, it allows Mark Thomson’s design to bring us spacious country interiors, a misty, dark woodland, and seamless scene changes.  The sound is immaculate. 

SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER  is at the Olivier Theatre [National Theatre] on selected dates until 21 April and also will be screened to cinemas as part of the National Theatre Live broadcast series on 29 March.


She Stoops


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