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Opposites attract

Jes Camilleri reviews the production of comic period piece She Stoops To Conquer.

Joe Depasquale, Tina Rizzo, Stephen Oliver and André Agius. Photo: Sebio Aquilina

Joe Depasquale, Tina Rizzo, Stephen Oliver and André Agius. Photo: Sebio Aquilina

Goldsmith’s brilliant 18th century comedy, She Stoops to Conquer, has aged well thanks to the fact that its main themes have retained their relevance over the course of more than two centuries. In this respect, director Malcolm Galea seems to have felt no pressure to bring it up to date by giving it a contemporary setting. In fact, it comes replete with elaborate 18th century costumes and period scenery. What he has done, however, is give it a contemporary feel by speeding up the comic timing and, where it works, I must say it works very well.

When the curtain opens we are introduced to Mr and Mrs Hardcastle (a great comic pairing of Stephen Oliver with Marylu Coppini). Despite his wealth, Mr Hardcastle lives a very modest lifestyle and loves everything that’s old and traditional, while his wife complains that they never leave their house in the country “to rub off the rust” and experience the new and exciting things happening in London. They live with Tony (a well-cast Joe Depasquale), Mrs Hardcaste’s son from a former marriage; their daughter Kate (an excellent Tina Rizzo); and Constance Neville (played by Giulia Gatt), niece to Mrs Hardcastle and an orphan whose only inheritance is a set of jewels in the care of her aunt.

Mr Hardcastle is hoping to marry off Kate to Charles Marlow (well played by Andre Agius) the son of an old friend of his who is on his way to pay them a visit with his friend George Hastings (played by the up-and-coming Gianni Selvaggi). The problem with Charles is that, while he is perfectly at ease wooing women of a lower class, he turns into a stammering lump of jelly in the presence of more refined females like Kate. Mrs Hardcastle, on the other hand, wants Constance to marry her son to keep her inheritance within the family; yet, Constance has her eyes set on Hastings. On his part, Tony is not interested in the least in marriage and would gladly pass up his mother’s wishes.

An enjoyable show that was marked by some good comic acting

On their way to the Hardcastles’ home, Marlow and Hastings lose their way and find themselves at a nearby inn, where Tony and his mates are having a bawdy time. Without revealing his identity, Tony tricks them into thinking they are very far away from their destination and that they would do well to spend the night at a nearby inn which (unbeknown to them) is actually the Hardcastles’ home. Thus, the scene is set for a night of misunderstandings where Mr Hardcastle is mistaken as the landlord and Kate as the barmaid.

Agius and Selvaggi formed a good comic pair; Agius skilfully handled the abrupt transition from extreme shyness to cocky impudence, while Selvaggi gave his Hastings a spoilt brat comic twist. More variety in their stage business other than lounging very casually on the sofa and armchairs would have, however, helped to underline their lack of decorum at their host’s house and sustained the comic impact of the misunderstanding. Oliver, on his part gave a memorable performance as Hardcastle; full of energy and clearly articulating his pent-up frustration at Marlow’s apparent lack of civility. Coppini, too, was at her comic best with her dotty portrayal of Mrs Hardcastle.

I was once again impressed with the growing confidence of Tina Rizzo, who dominated the stage with her strong presence and deft use of voice and movement, to give a well-rounded portrayal of a strong woman who is clearly taking her fate into her own hands. On her part, Giulia Gatt, although somewhat over-using her delivery to the audience made good use of her voice and body language to show her frustration at her predicament.

It was also great to see seasoned actors like John Marinelli and Michael Mangion breathe life into their brief but strong appearances on stage as Diggory the head servant and Sir Charles Marlow, father to the young Marlow respectively.

The staging was kept simple, showing the interior of the Hardcastles’ home with a large frame over the fireplace that cleverly doubled as a projection screen for various stills to portray different settings and a video of a string trio in silhouette playing classical versions of contemporary pop songs during scene changes.

Overall this, was an enjoyable show that was marked by some good comic acting particularly by the more experienced actors. On his part, Galea could have done more to ensure some of his less experienced cast members added more texture to their characterisation. While his fast paced direction certainly aided the flow and punch of the piece, it might have come at the expense of some additional detail that would have made some of the performances more memorable.

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