Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Review: She Stoops to Conquer

She Stoops to Conquer was first performed in 1773, and yet something about it remains relevant and appealing to a modern audience.

Considering the pompous costumes this show demands, National Theatre have managed to produce a remarkably fresh interpretation. At times it’s so fresh that you forget the script is unaltered from the original.

Tonight is special because the National Theatre are filming this performance and beaming it live around the world. Before the lights go down, two television screens on the side of the stage, show us a presenter delivering a live introduction from the roof of the building. Throughout the show, these screens continue to show us what is being broadcast. I found it quite entertaining to watch them briefly during the live performance and imagine others at the exact same moment experiencing this performance with only the screens.

When the show begins, I’m captivating immediately. A catchy pub-like tune has been composed and an enormous chorus appear on stage singing it in the style of an A Cappella group – though in this case they are backed by an impressive band.

It’s quite riveting and reminds me of a version of the Threepenny Opera I once saw that opened with Mack the Knife. That was an equally genius opening but sadly the same zest didn’t infuse the rest of that show, and I was underwhelmed.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen this time around, and I found myself enjoying every moment.

Sophie Thompson as Mrs Hardcastle.
The main thrust of the story involves a rich girl pretending to be a barmaid in order to be seen as interesting (and not stuffy) by a visitor who is staying in her father’s house under the false pretence that it’s an inn.

This show is consistently clever and witty. Particular mention must be given to Sophie Thompson, whose hysterical Mrs Hardcastle steals the show.

But really, the people behind the scenes at the National must be given most of the credit. The direction is superb, the inclusion of bizarre chorus songs to bring pace is genius, and the staging is among the best I have ever seen.

If you’re in London, go see this show. If you’re not, try to find a copy of the BBC broadcast – and you can watch it knowing that I saw the exact same performance!

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