Review – She Stoops to Conquer, National Theatre

Tuesday 31 January 2012

Another Whingers’ first; one which left Andrew to reflect on genetic instruction.

You may recall that Phil’s sister Elizabeth was once reduced to contributing to this site, penning a review of the 8 hour Oberammergau Passion Play so that we need never trouble ourselves with it.

Anyway, the poor woman undertook her inaugural Whingers’ trip last night, forced to accompany the Whingers because she’d read She Stoops to Conquer at school, really liked it and so was – relatively speaking – an expert.

Not only an expert, but one who could sit still for eight hours. Andrew tried to imagine Phil sitting still that long, or reading a text or liking anything and concluded that they could not possibly share the same DNA.

On the other hand there was clearly a bond at work for both Liz and Phil were equally thrilled that Katherine Kelly was making her National Theatre début. Who? As they impatiently explained to Andrew, Ms Kelly was until only last week the hugely popular Becky McDonald in the “serial drama” Coronation Street. Apparently one of the best characters of recent years, she left the cobbles, not looking over her shoulder in the back of a Street Cars cab, but whisked off to Barbados by a new love, conveniently freeing her up just in time for to begin Stooping at the National.

Kelly is the ‘She’ of the title of Oliver Goldsmith‘s 1773 romp, Kate is the daughter of wealthy countryman, Mr Hardcastle (Steve Pemberton), who stoops to conquer Marlow (Harry Hadden-Paton) son of a wealthy Londoner, at her fathers’s request. Stooping, not because Mr H-P is of restricted growth, but because Marlow is nervous around upper-class women yet comfortable among low-born ones. So she pretends she’s a barmaid to put him at his ease.

And, for those who follow such things and will want to know if the ex-Rover’s Return barmaid can hack it, well, yes she can. Kelly is completely at home on the stage; funny and assured, commanding the stage as though she’s never been away from it (she has previously done time at the RSC).

Happily there is also an excellent cast surrounding her in Jamie Lloyd‘s lively production. The splendidly monikered Cush Jumbo (as sub-plot love interest Constance) and Mr H-P further enhancing his WEW favourite status by delving deeply into a comedy bag and finding aspects we had not seen from him before (Phil was reminded of Rik Mayall, Andrew of Hugh Laurie).

He is more than ably supported by the wonderful John Heffernan looking like the love child of Steve Coogan and Grayson Perry as his silly-twittery sidekick Hastings who almost steals the show from a field of comedy veterans including Pemberton and WEW-fave Sophie Thompson as Mrs Hardcastle who gurns to enjoyably hilarious effect, producing such a host of funny voices one presumes she was tutored by the psychic Sally Morgan. She also has a lovely bit of curtseying business.

A top flight ensemble provide musical interludes which are almost as delightful as scenes between them (very catchy music by Ben & Max Ringham). We were also tickled to see a programme credit for Sue Lefton as an ‘Etiquette Consultant’, leading us to wonder about her day rate? The Whingers can surely offer her employment.

You will be relieved to hear that Phil’s sister enjoyed it tremendously and was thrilled to see the drum revolve utilised even if the jaded Whingers took the edge off it for her afterwards with a been-there-done-that world weariness and concealing that they too are always delighted to see it in use. Plus there was an enthusiastic full house, handsome mounting (design Mark Thompson), eating on stage (an orange), big wigs and copious amounts of skirt. And we were intrigued to hear a mention of tiff-taff-taffety cream. We have no idea what it is but we would love to see it back in fashion.

But, in one respect, hugely disappointing for Liz: hardly a whinge was uttered.



9 Responses to “Review – She Stoops to Conquer, National Theatre”

  1. Ed The Taxi Says:

    As good as Harry H-P was, his Rikisms made me wish for the real thing, nobody thrusts hips in a Rikesque way than Rik!

  2. Simon Parris Says:

    How incredibly funny was Thompson’s reading of the letter?
    And Kelly will surely be never out of work as a stage actress after this, providing the movies don’t don’t snap her up of course.

  3. ybradm Says:

    Sophie Thompson gives a performance with such little evidence of acting talent that the jaw drops! What is that accent??? The rest of the cast are not far behind in the Maladroitness Stakes!
    Why are the actors miked with the sound set at such a painful level that the ears are left ringing?
    Is the calibre of actor now being employed at the NT so low that they were not taught to project? Are there no voice classes at drama schools any more? Is there no company voice coach to train the company and bring out their talent?
    By miking the actors the NT take away the energy level required to fill a space as large as the Olivier Theatre (he will be turning in his grave), thus denuding the performances and leaving the actors with only cheap physical business to try to lift a thoroughly dull evening.

    This is an appalling production of a wonderful play.

    Stay away!!!

  4. Geoff Pearson Says:

    I concur with the previous comment that this is “an appalling production”.
    “Of a wonderful play” pushes it a bit though.

    Kelly and Heffernan between them lifted this over-produced pantomime from “let me out” to “sort-of-OK”.

    Steve Pemberton was pretty hopeless and Sophie Thompson over-acted so far that I felt embarassed on her behalf.

    Most of all, I blame the direction, shockingly inept.

    • ybradm Says:

      Pantomime is being too kind –

      Your local Amateur Dramatic Society would have a better stab at this play than the NT under the direction of Jamie Lloyd – and all this after seven weeks rehearsal! Lord help us.

      Bring back Weekly Rep and then this generation of “Television Actors” might learn their trade.

      Hopefully Jamie Lloyd will go back to basics and learn a little bit about theatre and direction and getting performances out of actors.

  5. BurlesqueStar Says:

    I say, haters will hate. What are you gonna do??

  6. WestEndFringer Says:

    I saw it last night. It is indeed a panto-style farce with various cast members overacting ‘ironically’ (i.e. with a nod ‘n’ a wink to the audience), but I did enjoy it.

    However, the thing where Hadden-Paton deliberately throws an orange segment into the front row, then pretends he didn’t mean to do it and apologises to the person he hit whilst the other actors pretend to corpse, was excruciating. Honestly, how thick do they think the audience is?

    Kelly, who I’d never seen or heard of, is very good indeed – you have to believe Marlow (Hadden-Paton) would be instantly smitten by her, otherwise the play doesn’t work – and she got it just right.

    Overall, it’s just a bit of fun and you could do a lot worse – I’d recommend it, especially if you can get seats for £12.

  7. Somba Dih Says:

    Whilst I enjoyed seeing it and it was amusing, I thought it was all rather hammy and reminded me of a Brian Rix farce.

    The musical chorus sounded good but belonged to an Andrew Lloyd Webber west end musical not a play based upon elegant language.

    The running time of two and half hours could be excused had the production been more formal but for me this was overlong.

    On balance enjoyable but disappointing.

  8. Lloyd Says:

    Can’t agree with your review I’m affaid. I left at interval extremely bored with the ham fisted, over indulgent acting. There wasn’t much laughter from the rest of the audience either.

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