She Stoops to Conquer is a comedy of both (bad) manners and errors. Written by Oliver Goldsmith and first staged in 1773, it is still popular today, frequently making it onto the national curriculum.
Don’t let your GCSE coursework put you off though – despite the fact that it was last performed in Oxford fairly recently (by Trinity Players on Trinity’s lawns last…Trinity), this slick and funny performance, directed by Elisabeth Watts, promises to be original and fresh.
The most striking quality of the play is the on-stage relationships; the cast are at ease with each other and this made viewing a pleasure, which considering the nature of the round-about plot is no mean feat.
It is a romantic farce which manages to be neither insipid nor twee: Mr Hardcastle is a man of means who intends to marry his daughter Kate to Marlow, the son of his wealthy acquaintance. However, Marlow has been misled on his journey by the mischievous Tony Lumpkin; he therefore arrives at the Hardcastle house believing the gentleman of the manor to be an inn-keeper and his daughter a barmaid.
This is the sort of social faux-pas that makes your stomach clench with delightful discomfort as you ready yourself for a glut of schadenfreude. Yet as it would happen, Marlow is a man who loves nothing more than to woo lower-class women, or “creatures of a different stamp”.
Before upper class women he becomes utterly tongue-tied and foolish. Kate learns of this idiosyncrasy and decides to get to know Marlow better by pretending to be a barmaid; thus she “stoops to conquer’” I won’t reveal the ending – I’m sure you can guess. While this is going on, the sub-plots bubble away nicely, with enough messy love-interests to keep even the most avid soap opera fan intrigued.
The Univ Players’ preview assured a vibrant performance from every character. Josephine Glover as Kate Hardcastle brilliantly switches both vocally and physically from a poised upper-class lady to a suggestive barmaid. The dynamic between her and her father, played by Charlie Mondelli, is amusing but warm and complements well the playful relationship between Mrs Hardcastle (Kathryn Smith) and Tony Lumpkin (Jordan Reed).
Kathryn’s melodramatic warblings and affectations are on the right side of hammy, while Marlow, played by Oliver Roth, is very compelling: like Kate, he has to switch characters and goes from painfully awkward posh boy to sleazy Love God with barely a hitch.
This genial and spirited play is sure to be a hit, being performed in the lovely surroundings of Univ gardens from Wednesday to Saturday of 4th week at 7.30pm.