Period comedy She Stoops to Conquer was first performed more than 240 years ago, but it continues to be one of the best-known English plays.
According to Conrad Nelson, director of a new production of the Oliver Goldsmith classic, the reason for its enduring popularity is the way it handles the timeless themes of human relationships and behaviour.
“People don’t change much,” says Conrad, who is bringing the Northern Broadsides version of She Stoops to Conquer to the Lawrence Batley Theatre on December 2, “while technology and situations change, the core values don’t.”
He believes the work is a more accessible play than many written at the same time, explaining: “It is pretty easy on the ear. The text is dense but the situations and mistaken identities in the play are easy to understand.” In fact, Goldsmith was criticised at the time the play was premiered for the fact that he’d given his characters dialogue that was natural rather than in the modish, more contrived, language of late18th century playwrights.
For his plays Goldsmith created a new type of comedy that he called ‘Laughing Comedy’, a move away from the moralising, sentimental works of the day. His plays concentrated on exposing human folly and getting his audiences to laugh out loud. It has elements of farce, irony and pokes funs at all the characters before allowing the hero to make an important discovery about the nature of true love.
Northern Broadsides has a reputation for taking such classics and bringing them to modern audiences in a quality production. She Stoops to Conquer is no exception. But it has proved to be a costly exercise for the company, which is based in Dean Clough Mills, Halifax. As Conrad points out: “This is an expensive play to produce, mainly because of all the wigs and proper frocks, but audiences like to see costume drama. We had to get a wig maker and the costume designer produced dresses in fabrics that are perhaps more Vivienne Westwood than period, but the cut is definitely period. It is a financial burden and one of the reasons why it doesn’t get done that often.”
However, the investment has proved to be worthwhile as the play has been successfully touring since late August.
She Stoops to Conquer has another major plus factor when it comes to attracting audiences - it is familiar to the many who have studied it at school. But seeing it performed is quite a different matter from reading the play in the classroom as Conrad explained: “The text makes a lot more sense and the clarity becomes apparent when you are up on your feet reading it out aloud. It brings the whole thing to life.”
The play can be seen at the LBT until Saturday, December 6. Tickets are from £6 to £18 from t he box office on 01484 430528 or www.thelbt.org