TWO HUNDRED YEARS OLD AND FRESH AS A DAISY
Two centuries before Oscar Wilde there was another eloquent, satirical, socially subversive, intermittently disreputable Irishman at work: Oliver Goldsmith, fondly called the “inspired idiot”. His most enduring work for the stage is this riotous tale of Marlow and Hastings, two city blades at large in the countryside, conned into thinking that their irascibly rustic host’s house is an inn. And that his daughter – who the parents plan must marry Marlow – is the barmaid. And since Marlow is the kind of Bullingdon-ish lad who is terminally shy with “ladies” but a cheeky seducer of the lower classes, it turns out quite well. Though not without a complicated a subplot of Hastings’ relationship, some jewels, and a final twisted knot of improbable tricks and cross-purposes straight out of comic-opera.
It is a comic classic: and Conrad Nelson of Northern Broadsides gleefully restores it to life for today. Not modernizing it exactly, but letting in some modern gestures, eschewing the standard 18c “La, Sir!” mannerisms and letting his designer Jessica Worrall craftily adjust the costumes – not in style but in fabric – to send modern messages. So Gilly Tompkins as Mrs Hardcastle who longs for the bright lights, and her daft foppish son Tony Lumpkin (Jon Trenchard, very funny) are upholstered in leopard and tiger print, and Hannah Edwards’ witty, charming Kate roars around in raspberry,almost neon, silk bustle, palmtree hair and long bright yellow gloves.
They Hardcastles are broad Yorkshire, the two hapless city lads very RP : their lofty, entitled snobbery quite modern enough to draw giggles of recognition. Social satire, however, rightly comes second to fun. The larkiness of the whole production is its delight, which Goldsmith would approve- people often breaking into song, Lumpkin dancing around with a fife and leaping on tables, some some marvellous interludes of pretended flirting (to please Mum) with Lauryn Redding’s Miss Neville. The comic chemistry between the two is perfect. And Oliver Gomm as the posh young man wincing at the “terrors of a formal courtship, the episode of aunts, mothers, cousins..” overdoes it just enough.
Howard Chadwick is a splendid harrumphing patriarch Hardcastle (quite a shock in Northern Broadsides to find the part not bagged by top harrumpher Barrie Rutter, but he’s got a King Lear to prepare for). And the folkish, joyful music under Rebekah Hughes brings it all together. Grand fun.