Restoration comedy demands certain things from its players. Attention to detail of the social mores of the day, a rigid class system that must be preserved, costumes that reflect status, and plots that revolve totally around the “right” people getting the “right” marriage partner. I’m happy to report that Headgate Theatre Production’s staging of She Stoops to Conquer hits the brief superbly, as Kate Hardcastle, and her cousin Constance, await the arrival of Marlow and Hastings. The ladies are living in a house mistaken for the local country pub by the visitors due to the plotting of fun-loving Tony Lumpkin. Familiar to all rom com fans, Kate conquers her potential lover by pretending to be the barmaid, and parents run around frantically approving then disapproving of matches.
The cast are uniformly good, centred by another strong performance from Charlotte Still as Kate, conveying her manipulation of events with total joy. And her dealing with the snobbish Marlow, wonderfully brought to life by Nick Edgeworth, form the bedrock of the show. Building on that are Les Chisnall as Mr. Hardcastle, hilariously frustrated as his plans are subverted, and Helen Kitson is a delight as Mrs. Hardcastle, easily led away from the facts and into duck ponds! Roman Crowther is wickedly mischievous as Tony, Jo Parrick portrays a nice sense of calmness to Constance Neville, Brian Malone brings excellent benevolent authority to Sir Charles Marlow, and George Penny is perfect as Mr. Hastings. They are completed by the most raucous, funniest set of servants seen this side of London!
The costumes and wigs are as fun as well as the characters, and the simple, yet effective set, kept the pace going very well overall. Director Jenny Burke is clearly knowledgeable about the style needed for Restoration. I thought the make-up, particularly for the men, could have gone over the top a bit more, marking a clearer line between “town” and “country”, and the demands of the space meant the audience occasionally had to sit patiently as the scene change happened. Minor quibbles though, as this production conquered audiences!