The Beaux’ Stratagem**** (National Theatre, Olivier)

Posted: May 28, 2015 in Theatre

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Who ever knew that Lichfield could be so much fun? George Farquhar’s joyful romp from 1707 begins with two penurious London gentlemen (Samuel Barnett and Geoffrey Streatfeild) arriving disguised in our smallest cathedral city with a stratagem to hook a pair of rich ladies. Once there, they encounter, amongst many others, a drunken husband with a lusting wife, French officers taken prisoner, an Irish-Belgian priest, several buxom wenches with drooling pursuers, a gang of highwaymen and so on. Director Simon Godwin gives a lavish and richly comic production to a play that is ridiculously over-plotted and totally nonsensical from start to finish. Lizzie Clachan’s towering set of multiple staircases is breathtaking and Michael Bruce’s music fits in perfectly with the text, always pleasing to the ear. Barnett and Streatfeild shine, Susannah Fielding’s maltreated wife sounds feminist battle cries 200 years ahead of her time, Pearce Quigley achieves the production’s best laughs-per-line ratio as the droll servant Scrub, but the cast of over 20 all give excellent performances. This is the sort of thing that the National ought to do better than anyone else and, happily, it lives up to such expectations.

Performance date: 27 May 2015

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