Directed by Jamie Lloyd
|Courtesy of Alastair Muir for the Daily Telegraph|
Written by Oliver Goldsmith in the late 1700s, this sentimental comedy has enjoyed success from its very beginning and director Jamie Lloyd’s latest production is no different, having been highly praised in every review. In writing this play Goldsmith sought to revive the comedy genre, which he saw to be fading in the theatre world at the time, and remind people of just how effective a good comedy can be. Confusion and deception come in all shapes and sizes in the plot, which tangles and then untangles itself with hilarious results.
For all the fame the play historically enjoys, the creative team at work here ensures that there is plenty more to this production than simply its well-polished script. Everything in this production has confidence and panache and the choreographed movement and musical arrangements give even the scene changes a style of their own. Seeing it towards the end of its run means that by now the cast know exactly how to play to their audience, delighting us with exaggerated performances in a way that lets us in on the joke too. It is rather remarkable to see such a strong cast each giving such distinctively funny performances. The TV names blend with the rest here and regardless of what they may be best known for; these are all actors who take their comedy very seriously.
Sophie Pemberton gives us a terrifyingly funny Mrs Hardcastle and Katherine Kelly is a pleasant surprise as Kate Hardcastle. Scenes in which her character pretends to be a barmaid to get closer to the ever so shy Marlow – played by an ever so funny Harry Hadden-Paton – were a particular highlight. A personal favourite for us is the character of Hastings, played by John Heffernan. Heffernan is endearingly whimsical and paired with Hadden-Paton, the two present a charming and often hysterical double-act.
Mark Thompson’s set is a dignified accomplishment. I love to be greeted with a roaring fire and as far as I’m concerned there can never be too many trees on set, nor too much dry ice – though on this particular night the crew certainly did seem intent on submerging the entire first row in haze. However, for me, this wonderfully strange tech mishap is just a perk of having a front row seat. Another advantage of being so close is seeing how much fun the actors seem to be having, and as the evening progresses it’s easy to see why. After all, it must be fun to break a painting over someone’s head night after night! And yet, for all the chaos on stage, there is always an equal measure of control, bringing out the best moments of this masterful play.
Amid all the critical acclaim it is worth remembering that the only question that concerned the playwright to begin with – and therefore the only question we should concern ourselves with – is, ‘did it make you laugh?’ And to that we can certainly say yes, it did!