“My chief aim is to take my gentleman off his guard”
This DVD of the 2003 Out of Joint/National Theatre co-production of She Stoops to Conquer has lingered in my to-watch pile for a wee while now, as the memory of the current Jamie Lloyd production at the National has remained strong. I got round to watching it, primarily due to the thrill of finally getting to see Monica Dolan on stage in Chalet Lines at the Bush Theatre, but truth be told I should have waited, a lot longer.
Filmed at the Theatre Royal Bath, Max Stafford-Clark’s production is far from unwatchable and is really quite good at times. But it it just felt quite tamely traditional for the most part – entirely by comparison it must be said – and misguided in the few attempts at updating it did try. Things get off to a sticky start as Jason Watkins’ manservant is lumbered with an awkward prologue which tries, and fails, to work in modern-day references effectively. Fortunately this was the only really obvious tinkering and once the play proper had started, the actors were mainly left to get about their business.
Goldsmith’s comedy of errors takes place in and around the Hardcastles’ country pile, which in this version in located somewhere in the Black Country. Thick accents and a lack of social graces characterise Ian Redford’s gently frustrated master who wants to marry his daughter Kate off and Jane Wood’s insufferable mistress who longs for society. When a suitable suitor, Marlow, is identified, he is invited to down to meet Kate and brings his friend Hastings, who just happens to be entangled with Kate’s cousin Constance. But circumstances and the mischievous Tony conspire to have lots of fun with the visitors whilst determined Kate endeavours to make sure this is a match that will be good for her.
From these four central roles, Monica Dolan’s Kate and Stephen Beresford’s Hastings both shine with assured comic performances, but it is a shame that they’re not a couple in the show. I found Christopher Staines’ Marlow and Fritha Goodey’s Constance to be rather anaemic, both in their interactions with their lovers, which is the driving force of the show, and with their respective friends, which gives the show its heart. Owen Sharpe was rather personable as Tony and Nigel Cooke’s cranky old Marlow was fun but overall, I found this She Stoops To Conquer to be rather flat and pedestrian. I’d like to think that how I would have found it if I’d not seen the recent NT version, but I guess we’ll never know.