One of the principal conceits of this 18th century farce is that one would obviously treat an innkeeper and a bar maid with far less respect and basic human decency than one would their peers, not to mention their betters. This accepted, appalling behaviour is the source of much of the conflict and most of the laughs in Oliver Goldsmith’s text though, thankfully, in Martha Henry’s current Stratford production, the sublime cast is able to elevate the material to mine plenty of laughs (and even a little pathos) elsewhere.
She Stoops to Conquer as staged mostly predictably by Henry on the Avon’s proscenium arch is dull, silly and long but, if you manage to make it through to the end, you may find that the surprising richness of the performances makes the contrived happy ending ultimately pretty satisfying. Pompous, inconsiderate and two-faced as the character may be, Brad Hodder carefully plants enough endearing shyness and earnest fear of humiliation in his portrayal of Charles Marlow that his act two face-plant serves as all the humanization he needs to appear ultimately worthy of Maev Beaty’s crafty Kate (Beaty is, as always, a material-elevating delight). Tyrone Savage deftly charms the audience with his false praise of Lucy Peacock’s boringly wacky matriarch though his romance with Sara Farb’s flighty ingénue never quite rings true. Far more true is her excellently disdainful relationship with the show’s standout character- Tony Lumpkin, played to perfection by 2nd year company member Karack Osborn with such glee and abandon that he makes you wish you were having half as much fun as he is with this show.
Joseph Ziegler is loveable and stepped-upon as a gentleman mistaken for an innkeeper, his principal flaw being how quickly he forgives and forgets. He is, perhaps, something of a metaphor for this play- it abuses its actors with forgettable farce and unforgivably elitist themes but those very actors are wonderful enough to make the audience accept the bad and focus on the good.