Irishman Oliver Goldsmith’s one and only play – written in 1771 – would almost certainly have been regarded as being ‘over the top’ in its day. A handful of foolish city fops fall in and out of love with country ladies in a class comedy of no consequences. There is a mistaken identity at its core and a few slanders about Londoners at its periphery; always good for a laugh.
Conrad Nelson, redirecting the play 250 years later, pushes the envelope of over-the-topnesss to the utmost limit. Luckily for him, we in the sticks still find the idea of uppity Londoners travelling north a bit of a hoot and are willing to suspend our disbelief that anyone can make such a silly mistake as to confuse his intended’s mansion for an ale house.
It’s a bit of a ropey old play these days but the comedy is conserved in the ridiculous characters…and, consequently, it still pleases muchly.
We start in the Three Pigeons pub where pigeons do what pigeons do and bawdy blokes hoodwink two lovelorn travellers; one of whom, young Marlow, is entering an arranged engagement with the local landowner’s daughter, upon whom he has yet to clap his eyes.
Oliver Gomm is so hysterical he almost makes the plot believable. His uncontrollable shyness towards women of breeding is a wonderful study of how to share a stage for a good five minutes with an elegant actress without actually looking at her. His antics really are screamingly funny, only to be topped by his devilishly amorous advances towards the same girl when he thinks her a lowly barmaid. Hannah Edwards is strong and independent in the former guise and – when she does indeed stoop to conquer – saucily Scouse in the second.
But first prize for outrage must go to Jon Trenchard as the contemptible booby Tony Lumpkin…prancing gaily around in his leopard skin suit and orange pony tail. He delivers his carping comments and doubtful innuendos like a young John Inman on heat.
The nobility are wonderfully adorned by Jessica Worrall’s pretentiously crazy costumes. She’s taken prints from cartoons of the day and again shoved them well and truly beyond belief. And the performers are given some great songs to sing. An early number is a ridiculous rendition of the sort of ditty Gilbert and Sullivan might have composed back them. I guess the length of the play sadly deprived us of more.
Finally I’d like to draw your attention to Mr. Alan McMahon, who is no stranger to the New Vic. He has an air of Tommy Cooper about him, doing very little, so rib-tickling well, in a series of deadpan, servantile vignettes.
Keep one eye on him…and perhaps the other on the company tortoise, which never misses a cue.
Photo : Nobby Clark
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