The Beaux' Stratagem

Wed 6th – Sat 9th May 2015

reviews

Ed Grimble

at 09:37 on 7th May 2015

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George Farquhar’s 1707 play, ‘The Beaux’ Stratagem’, is a classic example of Restoration comedy. Following the puritanical years of the interregnum, English theatrical audiences demanded plays that were wild and riotous. Farquhar certainly delivers on this front. And, indeed, this too is the aim the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in their latest production of the play: to recreate that same reckless abandon that characterised the play in the eyes of its contemporary audiences. To achieve this, director Paul Clarkson does admit that the cast have ‘taken a few liberties’, in their adaptation: this is putting it lightly.

The myriad of contemporary references to Restoration music and culture are given a major overhaul in lieu of 21st century nods, most notably the recurrence of James Blunt’s ‘You’re Beautiful’- no three hundred year old lute serenades here, that’s for sure. Indeed, whilst many of these directorial decisions do succeed in giving the play an added verve, there does seem to be a very real danger that the play is straying dangerously close to the realms of pantomime. At times, most obviously when, for instance, highwaymen Bagshot (Alexander Hall) and Hounslow (Maanuv Thiara) swagger on to the stage in black and white prison garb whilst ‘Gangsters Paradise’ blears overhead, it all seems a little too much. What is an extremely sharp and witty script sometimes feels in danger of being lost in amongst a tumult of absurdity and gimmicks.

However, there is no denying that ‘The Beaux’ Stratagem’ is staggeringly funny. Throughout, it is obvious that the cast are having a great time on stage, and although this lead to some unfortunate moments of corpsing and breaking characters, more often than not the cast’s energy serves to further fire up the audience. Indeed, frequent instances of meta-theatre wonderfully draws the audience into the world of the play and the actors, the former more often than not being left in stitches as a result. The play’s crowning moment comes in the form of Clarkson’s solution to the problem of how to recreate the picture gallery of a country manor. Suffice to say, a few empty picture frames, an extensive props box, and The Novelties' ‘Left Bank Two’ playing overhead solves the predicament and leaves the audience tear stricken with laughter.

Barring the aforementioned moments of heinous corpsing, the cast are marvellous. There is a real exuberance and energy around the auditorium that proves just how wholeheartedly the entire ensemble have embraced the potential of Farquhar’s script. Aimwell and Archer, the play’s two central characters, London rakes on the prowl for a wealthy heiress with a fortune to replenish their dwindling coffers, are played spectacularly by Tom Bailey and Dylan Wood. The pair’s onstage relationship is effortless and slick. Without fail, the supporting cast are stellar as well. Mauna Thiara’s Squire Sullen adds huge stage presence and the perfect balance between pomposity and brutishness. This proves to be the foil to Scrub, the house’s manservant and coward, played by Alexander Hall, with Hall easily fulfilling Scrub’s comic potential, both with regards to his sharp wit, and episodes of thigh-slapping physical comedy.

Without a doubt, the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School’s production of ‘The Beaux’ Stratagem’ is riotously funny, with a vibrancy and energy that is rarely seen on the stage. Indeed, although it is sometimes the case that this buoyancy and bounce threatens to rob the play of its delicacy- the cast should certainly be praised for their efforts to give modern audiences the same bacchanalian levels of unchecked theatrical anarchy. If you are looking for a night of relentless laughter and clever comedy, then catching ‘The Beaux’ Stratagem’ would not be a bad plan at all!

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Anna Wyn Davies

at 09:58 on 7th May 2015

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When I walked in to the theatre I wondered how this 18th Century comedy (that I had never heard of) would grab my attention. But the minute the Bristol Old Vic Theatre’s production of “The Beaux' Stratagem” began, I realised that no play needs to be just thematically current to be appealing to the modern masses, as this farce was approached with the irony needed. This was, hands down, one of the funniest plays that I have seen put on in the last few years.

Two fair gentlemen from London decide that after spending their wealth in the capitol, they should head to Litchfield to find some wealthy wives - and partake in some debauchery in the process. The use of irony is probably the most brilliant part of this production. The play begins with all the actors coming frantically on stage without costume setting up the stage and adorning some half-arsed 1700’s costume. The director Paul Clarkson seems fully aware of the absurdity of the play, and more to the point, he embraces it. With awkward and dated scenes of characters wooing one another, a guitar and “Your Beautiful” by James Blunt is aptly used. Scenes of chaos and calamity come to a close with an appropriate use of “The Benny Hill” theme. Yes, an ironic use of “The Benny Hill theme”.

Though the use of wit in “The Beaux Stratagem” feels fresh and current in this BOVT production, it’s approach to feminism also feels topically quite relevant to any modern audience. Mrs Sullen, our heroine, is aware that due to societal norms she has been chained to her position and gender, but she only wishes to “rattle them a little”. Though it is in part due to feminist edge of the text, her performance still has elements of the stock “lady of the house” template, but with a bite that surely caught my attention.

The whole cast felt completely essential to the overall feel of the play. From Irish Vickers, busty barmaids to a frazzled footman, their comedic timing is incredibly slick. From switching roles and constantly breaking the fourth wall the actors become parodies of their characters. They manage to flesh out and bring these stock characters to life, harkening back to old productions of the Theatre Royal in 18th Century London.

To close, this play should definitely be on your radar. With some brilliant stars of tomorrow, some excellent direction, and pure unadulterated farce, any budding comedic auteur should be taking some pointers from “The Beaux' Stratagem”.

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