Review: Restoration comedy laughs in The Beaux' Stratagem, National Theatre
Samuel Barnett preens onto the Olivier stage, frock coat swishing and looking handsome. He is Aimwell, the younger brother of a count, who has frittered away his fortune enjoying life with his friend Archer (Geoffrey Streatfeild) and the two are on a mission to find rich wives to replenish their coffers.
Arriving at a coaching inn with Archer posing as Aimwell's servant they set about their plan to seek out well-funded beaux. Meanwhile the most eligible young woman Dorinda (Pippa Bennett-Warner) is helping her sister in law, Mrs Sullen (Susannah Fielding), to make her husband jealous in the hope that he will be less neglectful.
Throw in a highway man, a romantic French captain, an amorous 'French' priest and a love tangle among the servants and you have George Farquhar's restoration comedy The Beaux' Stratagem. It is an entangled tale of love, lust, marriage and money. And while it isn't quite the romp that She Stoops to Conquer was three years ago, there is plenty of amusement and laughs.
Pearce Quigly is the other scene stealer. He plays Scrub the errant husband's servant with a deadpan delivery that works as a brilliant contrast to all the animated shenanigans going on elsewhere. And he has some brilliant lines.
Mrs Sullen is an interesting character and played with a controlled sassiness by Fielding. Beneath the comedy Farquhar subtly highlights legal inequality between the sexes and paints a less rose-tinted view of marriage. The outcome of her story line is fudged slightly by Farquhar to gloss over the reality of her situation and make a happier ending.
Beaux' Stratagem takes a little while to warm up but that might be a fault of the play in taking its time to set up the various plot lines but it soon gets into its stride. You have to listen carefully sometimes to get the full richness of Farquhar's words but the reward is some gems. It's fun and often silly and an entertaining evening at the National Theatre.
It is two hours and 40 minutes including an interval and runs in rep until Sep 20.
* A note on seating. The set is three tiers so to get the best view it is better to be sat further up the rake in the stalls or in the circle. We were on the front row and sometimes had our view obscured by pieces of furniture or set.
Feels a bit of a cheat to revive an old one but Sam Barnett was in Bright Star with Mr W.