The Beaux’ Stratagem

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I’ve definitely been taking in a broader spectrum of theatre of late (including some Fringe stuff with The Theatre Tourist – check out her reviews of The Point of No Return, Dogs of War, The Taming of the Shrew and The Theory of Relativity), and that now includes a Restoration comedy in the form of George Farquhar’s ‘The Beaux’ Stratagem’.

Like most things I go to see these days, I had very little idea about what I was letting myself in for! Other than ‘an unexpected musical number’… That sounded good to me, anyway!

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I’d managed to bag myself one of the National’s Travelex £15 tickets for what turned out to be the front row (not expected when it’s row B) and, whilst my view of some parts of the stage was hampered by a table, I have to say I’m glad I got to experience this glorious show from such proximity. The costumes are to die for – in particular Mrs Sullen’s (Susannah Fielding) gorgeous red patterned dress that she wears for the majority of the play. And you don’t normally catch me fawning over clothes, so that must say something! There are also some incredible wigs and fantastic facial expressions on display, all of which could potentially be lost if you’re sat too far back.

You also get a real feel for the setting and can get wholly lost in the atmosphere of the piece. I’ve always admired the National’s productions for the way they really utilise the height of their spaces; this is no exception. The set is an interior of a building, on three levels, which is transformed between a country inn and the lady of the manor’s house. Extra height is brought into play in one particular scene when the characters are admiring the family’s collection of paintings, which are lowered from the ceiling and suspended in mid-air for all to see. The set is truly beautiful with a really authentic feel.

The story itself revolves around a pair of down-and-out gentlemen, taking in turns to pose as master & servant as they attempt to recover their fortunes. In this case, Aimwell (Samuel Barnett) is the master and Archer (Geofffrey Streatfeild) his servant. Barnett & Streatfeild really are a marvellous double act! They both have superb comic timing, playing off each other brilliantly – and they embody their respective characters perfectly. It’s hard to imagine anyone else in these roles.

Susannah Fielding is sassy & flirtatious as Mrs Sullen, in stark contrast to her onstage sister-in-law (and object of Aimwell’s affections) Dorinda (Pippa Bennett-Warner), who begins as mild & naïve but becomes ever more passionate & self-assured as the story unfolds.

The entire cast is fantastic, and together they are greather than the sum of their parts. I would, though, like to highlight Pearce Quigley as Scrub (who also forms an hilarious partnership, of sorts, with Archer) and Amy Morgan as the landlord’s feisty & independent daughter, Cherry.

I have to also mention the onstage band, whose music really adds a depth to the piece and definitely helps to transport you back to the era of the play.

What more can I say? I’m very glad that this show was recommended to me and I am already desperate to go again. I wholeheartedly implore you to do the same! It’s running until September, so no rush – but there’s no time like the present. As the saying is…

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