Theatre review: She Stoops to Conquer

David Pearse steals the show amid a cast playing to the gallery with diverting, shameless slapstick

Abbey Theatre, Dublin


Like any classic worth its salt, Oliver Goldsmith’s 1773 comedy of deception and misunderstanding still speaks to modern audiences. As the bashful Young Marlow (Marty Rea) attempts to court the scheming Miss Hardcastle (Caroline Morahan), there is a pang of recognition as the tongue-tied suitor vainly tries to overcome his fear of well-bred women. “I love to converse only with the more grave and sensible part of the sex,” he says, stuttering as he utters the last word. “But I’m afraid I grow tiresome.”

Quite: any scene where the main comic device is a character’s stutter is likely to be trying, but it soon reaches breaking point when it’s as exaggerated and drawn out as in Conall Morrison’s production. Such are the pitfalls of reviving a venerable work with the intention of serving up jolly festive fare. The thrust of Goldsmith’s play still resonates – the urge to follow desire over duty and the farcical dissembling that thus arises – but the labyrinthine twists of Goldsmith’s plot and dialogue do not always sit easily with the frantic pace of Morrison’s staging.


That’s not to dismiss the production’s virtues. From the moment a rag-tag bunch of Georgian-era servants emerge from Liam Doona’s two-tiered set to play a wheezing musical overture, the faded grandeur of the household of Mr Hardcastle (Jon Kenny) is wonderfully evoked, with Joan O’Clery’s costumes adding seasonal colour. The cast throw themselves into the task of breathing new life into the text by indulging in slapstick, hamming up the repartee and playing to the gallery.

Kenny, Rea, Rory Nolan (as Marlow's sidekick Hastings) and Marion O'Dwyer (as Mrs Hardcastle) are particularly game participants, while Morahan produces the nearest thing to a rounded portrayal that circumstances allow, by turns wicked and delightful. But given the frolicking aspirations of the play, the star of the show is David Pearse, whose role as Hardcastle's ne'er-do-well stepson is a masterclass in scene-stealing comedy performance.

These qualities make up for the longueurs. Judicious snipping might have helped: set-pieces such as Hardcastle's Dad's Army-style inspection of his ramshackle serving staff seem superfluous. But subtlety is not the aim here. Until Jan 31

Mick Heaney

Mick Heaney

Mick Heaney is a radio columnist for The Irish Times and a regular contributor of Culture articles