Oliver Goldsmith’s delightful comedy of manners, first staged in London in 1773, is a real crowd-pleaser that stands the test of time with its satirising of the upper class through biting humour and an elaborate set-up. Produced by UK touring company, Creative Cow, it is an antidote to the sentimental comedies that were a popular genre during the Irish playwright’s career.
The play revolves around Mr Hardcastle’s plan for his daughter, Kate, to marry the well-bred Charles Marlow, the son of an old friend. But there is a problem. Charles, when in the company of elegant women of his class, is a stuttering bag of nerves. In contrast, when talking to women of the lower classes, he is witty and confident.
Charles, en route to the Hardcastle household, in the company of his friend, George Hastings, becomes the victim of a hoax in which the mischievous Tony Lumpkin (son of Mr Hardcastle’s second wife) directs the men to an ‘inn’ where they’re recommended to stay overnight on the way to their destination. But the ‘inn’ is actually the Hardcastles’ home.
Oblivious, Charles behaves appallingly, revealing impudence and disdain for the ‘staff’ of the ‘premises’. George, who has designs on Constance (the niece of Mrs Hardcastle), realises the prank but he and the object of his desire agree to keep Charles in ignorance. What ensues is bad behaviour and impersonation as Kate pretends to be a barmaid.
This is a stylish production, full of fun and fripperies. The women reveal the hooped scaffolding of their dresses that have no fabric. Mrs Hardcastle, a preposterous character, wears an elaborate head piece in keeping with her eccentricity.
The minimalist set comprises large gilt frames which both frame the characters in portrait-like poses as well as serving as exit and entrance points. The only fault with this slick production is that the latter part of the play goes on for too long, tying up the loose ends in an overly detailed manner.