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Thursday, 27 February 2014

Stooping...

Picture the scene... I'm in Scotland, visiting my Grandfather.  It is moderately cold and I'm working away in the backroom.  My mobile phone rings.  It is Michael Harding, who I know is directing a production of She Stoops to Conquer.  To answer the call or not?  I know that this call means the auditions were short of men and that this would be a request to play.  It is a community production and so doesn't pay - quite the reverse.  But it is 'on the list' as it were.  The bucket list of plays to do before death.  And I haven't been all that well these last years, so whilst doing it would potentially get in the way of my actual work, it does remove a play from the bucket list.
I answer the phone.
I am offered the part of Hastings.
Working, as I do, on the taxi rank principle (you take whichever fare comes your way) I say yes.  In any case, I can't read up on the play as I'm in Scotland and Michael borrowed my copy of the script a year earlier.  (I did get it back - unlike a collection of Alan Bennett I could mention.)  I could have had a look online but there was no hurry and I waiting till I was back home to have a rummage through the text.
Initially Hastings is not appealing.  He doesn't have much of a character at first glance.  He largely speaks in plot, often repeating the same dialogue about the horses he needs being fatigued or reminding his fiance/audience of their plans to elope (with the fiance, not the audience).  The part is not, line wise, large but spends a lot of time onstage, largely waiting half a page till his next line.  Oh, the dangers of lost concentration with such a part.
But, after a rehearsal or two a few little hints did draw blood.  Hastings, though not deeply drawn (it is a comedy) has some nice character traits.  A good hearty man who takes everyone as they come, fond of a laugh and gentle mockery, quick to anger (or any other extreme emotion) but just as quick to a level headedness.  So, plenty to help create a physical score with, which in turn will help me remember where the lines go.
My little turn will go out next week - details below.

Sudbury Dramatic Society humbly presents
SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER
by Oliver Goldsmith.

A Respectable House, Suffolk. Two London Gentlemen a-courting arrive in the country and seek lodging for the night... A rollicking Tale of Confusions, in which the venerable Mr Hardcastle's hospitality is roundly abus'd, his Wife's ambitions are confounded, young Mistress Hardcastle assumes a position below her Station, and bashful Master Marlow is dup'd into forgetting his Modesty.

Performing Tuesday 4th to Saturday 8th March at 7.45pm
Quay Theatre, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 2AN
Box Office - 01787 374745
Online - quaytheatre.org.uk

P.S. For those who won't be able to watch the show, here's my little contribution to the programme notes.

When it comes to classic English plays (anything much earlier than the 20th Century) which get a modern revival there are two major periods to choose from.  The Age of Shakespeare (largely the plays of Shakespeare) and Restoration Comedy.  After these periods there is an almost two hundred year gap before anyone can find a play that they feel is fit for revival.  That isn't to say the plays aren't there or aren't, necessarily, any good, but they are largely not to taste and not as good as what came before or after.
There is, however, a brief oasis of quality which shines through this dark period, where a few plays have stood out and survived into modern times.  They are the best of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, (The Rivals and The School for Scandal) and tonight's play She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith.
It is a common mistake (even by knowledgeable theatre buffs) to call these plays Restoration Comedy.  They aren't, not just because they were written a hundred years later but also because they are very different comic beasts.  By the 1770's comedy had become more refined and less sexual than in Restoration times and preferred to avoid the vulgar and focus on wit.  Luckily Goldsmith and Sheridan had wit aplenty - though they still, occasionally, threw in the odd filthy joke.  These plays are the missing link between the old comedy of the Restoration and the later comedies of Oscar Wilde.  Witty, clever and largely immortal.  Not only that, they set the trend, not broken till the 20th Century, of almost all English comedy being written by the Irish.

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