When Yeovil’s Swan Theatre decided to perform the old favourite She Stoops to Conquer, with Goldsmith no longer on the set book list, they were by no means sure of selling tickets. But they did. All of them, for the six night run, and in double quick time.
Tuesday’s audience was one of the most varied I have ever seen at the Swan, with a large group of 16 year olds (working on a project about the 18th century, rather than the play itself) though all ages of theatre-goers.
And Andy Wood’s production is the triumph I’m sure they all hoped it would be. With backing music from William Boyce, and ending in a perfectly executed dance, the show is a delight.
Country landowner Mr Hardcastle wants his daughter Kate to marry the son of his friend Sir Charles Marlow, and the young man is dispatched from London to woo her. But he’s a curious fellow, totally tongue-tied with young ladies but swaggeringly seductive with barmaids and servant girls.
He is travelling with his friend Hastings, who is in love with the second Mrs Hardcastle’s niece, Constance Neville (Swan Youth Theatre graduate Elizabeth Todd), an heiress who Mrs H want for the wife of Tony Lumpkin, the dullard son from her first marriage.
But what Tony lacks in academic excellence he makes up for with pretty wit, and he persuades Hastings and Marlow that Hardcastle’s house is an inn.
Before long the two young blades are treating Mr Hardcastle as a jumped-up innkeeper.
Marlow’s first meeting with Kate is a disaster as he stammers and staggers to find even simple conversation. In Ben Woof’s wonderful performance, it’s one of the high points of the show.
But when he meets her again, this time in the “plain” dress her father insists for the evening at home, he thinks she’s a barmaid, and a whole other Marlow appears.
In the mean time Hastings realises the deception, while Tony sets out to steal Constance’s jewels and hand them over to the eloping couple – getting his cousin off his back once and for all.
When Sir Charles arrives to monitor the progress of the “romance” the cat is deep among the pigeons, but it all comes out right in the end.
Pete Fernandez plays Hardcastle with great bonhomie, and Tricia Wood makes the very most of the role of the vain Mrs Hardcastle, with young Angus Berryman in terrific form as an unusual but convincingly scheming Tony.
Shaun Driver again adds to his wide range as Hastings, and it’s good to see Alison Maynard-Griffin back on the Swan stage as Bet Bouncer.
Chrissy Mumford is the high-spirited heroine, she who stoops to conquer her man, with guile and gusto.
The whole thing is directed and performed with panache, skillful period atmosphere and infectious energy.
The Swan’s productions are legendary in the region, managing high production values, superb performances, intelligent direction and an astonishing range of talents.
The company does everything from the classics to cutting edge new plays, from powerful drama to hilarious comedy, and new actors are constantly appearing. Long may it continue.