Squire Hardcastle's second wife is quite determined that her spoiled and not too brilliant son, Tony Lumpkin, shall marry her niece, Constance Neville. In this way she will be enabled to keep in the family Miss Neville's fortune which consists of a casket of valuable jewels. The young people, however, have other plans, especially Miss Neville who is secretly pledged to Hastings.
Mr. Hardcastle, likewise, has plans for his own charming daughter, Kate, whom he wishes to marry the son of his old friend, Sir Charles Marlow. It is young Marlow's misfortune to be dumb in the presence of ladies of his own social status. He is, however, a master of clever repartee when talking to barmaids and girls of like station.
The Hardcastle family are expecting the arrival of young Marlow and his friend, Hastings. The approaching travellers stop at the village inn to inquire their way. Tony Lumpkin, who is there as usual with his cronies, conceives the idea of persuading the young men that they have lost their way and will have to spend the night at an inn. He directs them to the Hardcastle house which he highly recommends if they will excuse the eccentricities of the owner and his family.
Neither young Marlow nor Squire Hardcastle sense that both are victims of a hoax and the squire is much incensed at the bold and impudent behavior of his friend's son. Young Hastings, as soon as he sees Constance, puts two and two together. This pair agree to keep Marlow in ignorance and pretend that Constance and Kate simply happen to be stopping the night at the inn.
When introduced to Kate, young Marlow can find little to say and stumbles over that. In his embarrassment he never once looks at her face. It is not surprising, therefore, that later in the evening when he sees her going about the house in the plain house dress her father insists on, he takes her for the barmaid. She encourages the deception in order to find out if he is really as witless as he seems. In her barmaid's guise she is pleasantly surprised to find him not dumb but, indeed, possessed of a graceful and ready wit. When she reveals herself as a well born but poor relation of the Hardcastle family he acknowledges his love for her.
Further comic situations are created by Tony's attempts to help Constance and her lover elope with her casket of jewels. When through ludicrous misunderstandings these come to naught, Squire Hardcastle benignly sets everything right for both pairs of lovers.
Hardcastle - Steve Pemberton
Mrs Hardcastle, his second wife - Sophie Thompson
Kate Hardcastle, their daughter - Katherine Kelly
Tony Lumpkin, Mrs Hardcastle’s son - David Fynn
Miss Neville, Mrs. Hardcastle’s niece - Cush Jumbo
Hastings - John Heffernan
Sir Charles Marlow - Timothy Speyer
Young Marlow, his son - Harry Hadden-Paton
Landlord - Gavin Spokes
Written by Oliver Goldsmith
Director - Jamie Lloyd
Designer - Mark Thompson
Lighting Designer - Neil Austin
Music Director - David Shrubsole
So the tack I am going to take with this review is “it looks authentic”. Both the director and the designer have wisely avoided trying to make it “relevant” and have presented it honestly and intelligently with a view to how it may have looked during its original run back in the 1770s. Visually, the production is certainly everything you would wish for, with elegant and accurate costumes, presented in a limited colour range which looks right for the period - apart from one coat in shrieking peacock blue and about which I have serious reservations, everything else is in a wonderfully restrained and visually harmonious palette of colours, and the Costume Department have obviously done their homework very well. Costume-wise, its just what you want (and expect) for a play of this period. The scenery is superb and fits the bill perfectly; on the vast, hangar-like stage of the Olivier, the large and gloomy Hardcastle Hall is brilliantly realised – you can almost feel the draughts whistling under the doors. The sound design, with an “overture” of country noises, dogs barking off-stage when people arrive or depart, and so on, is excellent.
To the modern audience, the playing style seems extremely OTT at times, although this again brings a touch of realism because audiences at the time were extremely rowdy and ill-behaved. Theatres of the period were small, crowded and noisy; places to socialise with your friends, get drunk, see and be seen. The actors would often have to fight to be heard, and there would be little point in subtle and naturalistic acting; it would just get lost. The entire place would have been (relatively) brilliantly lit with candles – not until the mid-Edwardian era would the auditorium lights be turned off or down during the performance, so the cast were competing visually as well as audibly. So the very broad playing style is perfectly in period, although this does become extremely tiresome at times, particularly when the cast juxtapose this with modern interpolations in their style of what I would loosely call the “ooooh, suits YOU sir!” school of acting. The diction of the cast cannot generally be faulted – in an extremely wordy play such as this, its important that you can hear what is going on (although one particular member of the cast overdoes things to a degree resulting in her lines becoming a bit hit and miss on the audibility front). Everybody else, though, can be heard with great clarity, and that is something that cannot be taken for granted these days when many actors don’t seem to be able to speak at all clearly or project properly. So, so far, so good.