She Stoops to Conquer
In pushing back our repertoire a full century beyond anything we have produced before we are taking a risk which echoes the history of the play.
1773: It’s a strange moment in English drama. There are two theatres in London, Covent Garden and Drury Lane. Covent Garden’s huge size imposes commercially-driven constraints. The management are nervous of anything faintly controversial, and this of course will not do for theatre, whose driving energy comes from holding up a mirror to society and pointing with anger, grief, ridicule or irony.
Late 19th century audiences were used to sentimental plays, a long period of dull, undistinguished fare. Along came Oliver Goldsmith, with the powerful characters, the satire, the farce, the touch of pantomime that you are about to witness in She Stoops. It was a challenge to the fashion of the times, and the theatre management quailed.
What the problem? They were nervous that the play was “low”. David Garrick, the great actor/manager, himself an international phenomenon, declined to take part. He had made his name in the anodyne stuff of the day and was not about to get involved in controversy.
“Is the credit of our own times nothing?” raged Goldsmith. “Must we pass away unnoticed by posterity?”
a breath of sweet fresh air
Close to the end of the season, with only twelve nights to run, Covent Garden took the plunge. Garrick “bought himself out with a poor Prologue”, an edited version of which we have given to our enthusiastic Abbi Lunn. What the great man would have thought of his lines spoken by Diggory, a mere servant, I dread to think. Whatever - the play was a hit. It came to audiences like a breath of sweet fresh air.
And is it a “low” play? I dare hint at links with our own 21st century English society and leave you to decide. The young people are all products of - how shall we say - disturbed parenting. Mums and dads among you may recognise of the young to answer back.
Goldsmith deliberately takes the action out of the capital into the depths of the countryside. The local Squire’s house is mistaken for an inn. The plot hinges on this “mistake”, which actually comes from the rascally imagination of the naughty boy, Tony Lumpkin. Her torments his mother to the extent of dragging her through the horse pond. I think I’ve said enough.
It’s a very amusing play. Cast and production team have done a fine job, and I’m confident you will join me in congratulating them. Have fun!