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She Stoops to Conquer

Harry Michell, Anita Dobson and Michael Pennington in She Stoops to Conquer. Photo: Manuel Harlan Harry Michell, Anita Dobson and Michael Pennington in She Stoops to Conquer. Photo: Manuel Harlan

The tradition has long been for the two-month summer season at the Theatre Royal Bath to open on a light note, and this year the choice has fallen on one of the best-loved Restoration comedies – even if Oliver Goldsmith actually wrote it 100 years after the return of the monarch in England.

It carries its `Restoration` label as Goldsmith borrows from the rakish humour of such earlier comic writers as Dryden and Congreve for his wildly ridiculous mix of turmoil, misunderstanding and mistaken identity. The director, Lindsay Posner, is well known for his sure touch with comedy, but on this occasion the evening gets off to a slow burn,. with the characters weighed down with new-readers-start-here speeches.

It works up a head of steam by the madhouse second-half, though, as London rakes Marlow and Hastings, played in Jeeves and Wooster fashion by Hubert Burton and Jack Holden, mistake an ancestral country home for the local inn.

Worse still, Marlow views the owner and his would-be father-in-law Mr Hardcastle, a suitably bamboozled Michael Pennington, as the innkeeper, and his daughter Kate, made delightfully feminine by Catherine Steadman, as the serving girl.

All this has been manoeuvred by Mr Hardcastle`s quirky and pugnacious stepson, Tony Lumpkin, played by fringe comedian Harry Michell making his professional stage debut, while at the centre of the comic roundabout is Anita Dobson`s cunning Mrs Hardcastle, an over-fond mother whose pretensions of grandeur cannot hide her insecurities.

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This farcical whirlwind of comedy succeeds in making the women at least as witty as the men – and a deal smarter
Jeremy Brien
Jeremy Brien is a former chief reporter of the Bristol Evening Post and has been reviewing for The Stage for 47 years.