Sunday, 19 July 2015

'The Beaux' Stratagem' at the National Theatre

Yesterday we went to see 'The Beaux' Stratagem' by George Farquhar at the National Theatre, part of it's new season of productions. I've heard of Mr Farquhar's Restoration comedy and am familiar with many of the themes but have never seen performed before. It was good to see it played in period costume and I got quite jealous of some of the frock coats on display.

It's the tale of two young gentlemen, the beaux in question, who have blown their funds in fashionale London and have escaped to the coutry in search of rich wives so they can return to the City. Mr Aimwell and Mr Archer (and the names say it all, really) pretend to be a lord and the other his servant when they arrive at the coaching inn, asking for their horses to be kept sadled at all times for a quick get way - and the intrigue starts. Who are the young beaux?

Not far away is the country house of Lady Bountiful, her daughter Dorinda and daughter-in-law Mrs Sullen (again with the names) and her drunken husband. All the talk is of love and Mrs Sullen making her husband jealous so that he'd pay more attention to her. She brought a dowery of £10,000 a year so is wealthy and Dorina will have a similar dowery when she marries so will be a good catch. And the plot is set for the high jinx ahead, the misunderstandings and reversals, the dashing round and the villainy.

The play is set in the inn and the country house, the same wooden set that with a few swift changes moves from one to the other, then spartan inn and the comfortable and colourful house. It was nice to see that they used all three levels of the house at different times with a lot of running up and down stairs. And with the gentlemen in frock coats and ladies and maids in floor-length gowns it 'felt' as well as sounded and looked right for the Restoration. But sometimes like it was being too fast and too knock-about with lots of running across the stage, lots of fast-paced speaking making it difficult to follow and sometimes the word-play was lost behind all the action.

All in all, I liked it! I liked Geoffrey Streatfield as Mr Archer and Susannah Fielding as Mrs Sullen, working well together and playing off each other as potential lovers. I liked Pearce Quigley as Scrub, the deadpan butler, and Jane Booker as Lady Bountiful (with her herbal remedies and, um, cordials). The country jigs and reels that supported the play and appeared every now and then with some great visual comedy moments and a great version of 'The Trifle Song' at the end got everyone's feet tapping before morphing into a more sombre solo my Mrs Sullen to finish off. 

It's a fun production and it's going to feature in one of the NT Live cinema events over the summer so even if you can't see it in person you can see it in on the big screen. And, of course, admire the gentlemen's colourful frock coats.

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