She Stoops to Conquer
Old Labs, Newnham College, 7.30pm, until Thu 29 Nov
Although first performed in 1773, the timeless nature of Oliver Goldsmith’s most renowned play ensures that it is still widely enacted today. Though at times emotive, the play is undoubtedly distinguished by the farcical nature of its plot and characters. This particular adaptation, directed by Hannah Quinn, successfully manages both to capture the emotional shifts in the characters and to alleviate them through comedy.
Despite the relatively tiny space in which it is performed, the play rarely feels inadequate. Most of the actors manage to capture the emotional mindset of their characters, and the vibrancy of their performances enlivens the production. Admittedly, many of them stumble upon their lines on several occasions. While this is indicative of a work which is far from polished, however, it reflects the rawness of the acting, which feels refreshingly natural. Connie Chapman’s blustery expressivity in her role as Constance Neville is a prime example of this. Tom Jones also thrives as Tony Lumpkin, Mrs Hardcastle’s son, combining self-confidence with the mischief and teen-like stroppiness.
However, the standout performance is undoubtedly that of Aydan Greatrick as Charles Marlow. It is perhaps its consistency which is most remarkable. None of Marlow’s dramatic nature is lost in the shift between playing the exuberant man who flirts with lower-class women and the shy, repressed one that stutters and stumbles over his words in the company of upper-class ladies. The latter’s presence in his initial meeting with Miss Hardcastle is particularly amusing, never seeming forced or implausible. Though the feeling with which he speaks could ordinarily be considered to border on, in the words of Mr Hardcastle, ‘overacting, young gentleman’, its occasional straying into the realm of the excessive at the height of the action instead serves as a necessary reminder to the audience of the play’s innate farcicality.
Some of the other performances are not quite so constantly compelling. Gareth Mattey is initially unconvincing as Mr Hardcastle, possessing a touch too much sliminess and not enough credible emotion in the first few scenes in which he appears. He does, however, markedly improve throughout the play, and by the end Mr Hardcastle’s maturity and dry wit of the character come marvellously to the fore. Kayla Marks similarly takes time to settle into her role as Hastings, though this is perhaps understandable given the added challenge of portraying a male character. She does overcome these inhibitions, though, the emotional outburst upon discovering that her plans to elope with Constance Neville may have been thwarted displaying an emotive power which then turns comedic.
The decision to portray Hastings through a female actor is not the only intriguing directorial decision evident in the production. The sparseness and simplicity of the area serving as stage, which varies little across the play, is perhaps suggestive of a lack of focus on setting. More pertinently, though, it reflects a performance whose primary concern lies in the powerful and clear conveyance of language and its inner feeling rather than in its embellishment.
Ultimately, however, it is Greatrick’s outstanding, more complex performance as Marlow which carries the play. It is only the comparative lack of depth elsewhere that makes this a very promising, rather than truly great production.