Last night we went to the lovely Nurstead Court to see a brilliant outside performance of She Stoops to Conquer by Changeling Theatre. I had heard of neither the play nor the group and did not know what to expect. I often find this is the best way to enjoy new theatre: having no expectations means I’m often wonderfully surprised.
And so it was with this brilliant performance of a classic comedy-of-errors. Written by Oliver Goldsmith in 1773, She Stoops to Conquer is an amusing tale of the smart London set entangling themselves in the lives the Hardcastles, a nouveau rich family of ‘uncommoners’. The setting was perfect: Nurstead Court is a lovely red-brick Grade 1 listed manor house, set in attractive grassland and with a large garden where we were all seated to watch the outdoor performance. The weather was a little chilly but it didn’t diminish what turned out to be a lovely evening.
But what of the play itself?
The plot centres around the wealthy Londoner Charles Marlowe and his arranged meeting with Kate, the daughter of Mr. Hardcastle. Hardcastle is old friends with Marlowe’s father and wishes for Kate to marry Marlowe. Unfortunately Marlowe is nervous around upper-class women, but has no issues speaking to those of lesser class. When he’s first introduced to Kate, he appears meek and fearful of her, and she realises she will need to pretend to be “common” for Marlowe to court her. Thus she must “stoop to conquer”.
On their way from London to meet the Hardcastles, Marlowe and his friend George Hastings lose their way and ask for directions at an ale-house. There they meet Tony Lumpkin, the step-brother of Kate and cousin to Constance Neville, a young lady who is also staying with the Hardcastles. George Hastings knows Constance and is in love with her. He hopes to elope with her, and sees this trip as his opportunity while Marlowe is courting Kate. Tony Lumpkin plays a practical joke on them, convincing them that the Hardcastle’s home is an inn, and that they should board there. This deception sets off a chain of hilarious events, full of misunderstandings, misdirection and mishaps.
The way the Hardcastle family engage with the London visitors is at the heart of the comedy-of-manners and is soooo much fun. Indeed, the actors are clearly having a lot of fun with this play and and it’s so engaging, they waste no time at all in drawing us into that world. All the players are excellent in their (multiple) roles and none could be faulted. I particularly enjoyed Gary Davis as Mr. Hardcastle, channelling Boycie from Only Fools and Horses with his brilliant laugh. And a special mention to Anabelle Terry as Constance who was a rare delight, with an air of Bonham-Carter about her that was entirely compelling.
To round off the show we were treated to a group sing-song of contemporary hits; an unexpected finale but a lovely touch and one that brought laughter and applause. The night had drawn in and the show was over. It had been a wonderful evening in the grounds of beautiful Nurstead Court, and I loved every minute of it.
Now I’m itching to see another Changeling performance. I hope I don’t have to wait until next year…