Good comedy is all about one thing – timing. The funniest joke in the world will lose its sparkle if told at the wrong moment. This is why it’s much harder to put on a comedy than it is to be serious.
The Northern Broadsides’ performance of She Stoops to Conquer, now touring theatres across the North of England, has hit on the magic formula for comedy. Goldsmith’s 1771 play is one of the rare works that succeeds despite a collision of comedy styles; there’s the farce of misunderstandings, the satirical portrayal of town vs country and the sharp wit of the characters. So many different elements could choke a lesser playwright, but Goldsmith ties all the threads together into real humour.
More than picking the play
But the Broadsides must be credited with more than just picking a great play – I mean, yes it helps, but it’s the delivery which pushes it into being a brilliant performance. They’re a company renowned for thought-provoking and unique shows; “An August Bank Holiday Lark” which toured earlier this year won the UK Theatre Award for Best New Play – a startling and sober look at the impacts of the First World War on a small, rural community. Whether they’re doing Shakespeare or up and coming playwrights they tend to get the show right on the mark.
The first thing you notice about this play is the personal stamp the actors have left on She Stoops… The sly foppishness of Tony Lumpkin, with his childlike whining and scheming; pulling all the strings in this play seems as though he’d be irritating, but in fact is fantastic, setting the tone for the rest of the actors’ contemporary twists on their characters. Young Marlowe’s cartoon lothario, turned on in an instant is pitted against Kate’s calm, witty asides to the audience – a combination which should clash, but actually works. Mrs Hardcastle – the Restoration era Hyacinth Bucket – is a highlight in her wild leopard print dresses.
All in the details
The whole performance has been carefully arranged, it’s the detail which makes it such a success; from the costumes, which echo the characters’ personalities, to the clever staging – just one decorated screen which manages to capture the atmosphere of a rambling mansion and the surrounding wilderness. In play like this – where the controlled chaos of the script is at risk of overwhelming a lesser company, it’s these elements which keep the audience focused on the plot.
Ultimately it’s a wildly enjoyable farce, complete with towering hairpieces, riotous musical numbers and confusion from every angle – which is everything you want from such a play. The Northern Broadsides never disappoint with their performances and I can’t wait to see their next offering.
The Northern Broadsides tour She Stoops To Conquer across the North of England until the 13th December – tickets available from www.northern-broadsides.co.uk