Wednesday, 3 June 2015
Theatre review: The Beaux' Stratagem
Back at the inn where the beaux are staying, innkeeper Boniface (Lloyd Hutchinson) runs a gang of burglars. He thinks his wealthy but secretive new guests may be highwaymen, and fears they'll draw attention to his and gang leader Gibbet's (Chook Sibtain) dodgy activities.
To accomodate the many shifts between the main locations, of the inn and the grand home of Dorinda's mother Lady Bountiful (Jane Booker,) Lizzie Clachan's come up with a multi-level set of doorways and staircases, the better to handle the plot's more farcical elements, with a series of sliding panels moving back and forth to effect the scene changes. The set is one of the most memorable parts of the production, its many levels and entrances helping one of the better running gags, in which musicians suddenly appear whenever Archer, seemingly against his will, has to sing a musical interlude.
Like many comedies of the time, The Beaux' Stratagem takes its time to get into its stride while setting up its plot strands but does - especially in the second act - have a lot of very good gags. A few of these come from little knowing nods to the more improbable story conventions (Godwin and Patrick Marber are credited with dramaturgy on Farquhar's original script.) Maybe I've been spoilt by Jessica Swale's productions though, but while individual moments are hilarious, the whole never quite builds up into the kind of joyous madness these silly plays can be capable of.
You can't fault the cast though - the show has real luxury casting that includes Pearce Quigley in the comparatively small role of Scrub, the multitasking servant at Lady Bountiful's house, inevitably steals all his scenes, while Jamie Beamish pops up as a rather dubious French priest. Fielding's Mrs Sullen may not be as revelatory a role as her Portia, but she's still a highlight of the production, warm but pragmatic. The play's climax unusually centres on a divorce rather than a wedding, and the whole show ends in a big song-and-dance, Michael Bruce having provided the music which lifts the production throughout. Overall Godwin's production is fun, but never quite relaxes into the explosive ridiculousness I guess I was hoping for.
The Beaux' Stratagem by George Farquhar is booking in repertory until the 20th of September at the National Theatre's Olivier.
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes including interval.