To the National Theatre to see a rumbustious production of She Stoops to Conquer. Period Dramas pose problems to twenty first century theatre makers. Are they spectacles? Are they social commentaries? How do we make their word play and plot twists relevant to contemporary audiences. The trick, which is brilliantly employed in Jamie Lloyd's production, must be to acknowledge and revel in the artifice; to heighten the characters and invite us to enjoy the dexterity of the players. It's a play for big actors.
Lloyd also draws on out own visual understanding of the late eighteenth century by creating a chorus of choreographed Hogarthian servants who hysterically underscore the action with jigs, acapella singing and a percussion orchestra made up of pots and pans. They fill the difficult Olivier stage and bring a modern sense of cohesiveness to the work.
The big draw is Katherine Kelly, lately barmaid Becky from Corrie, whose celebrity presence and knowing winks to the stalls recall the glory days of Covent Garden, where the players made the audience feel they had a warm personal bond with those on stage.
She's ably supported by a cast of committed character actors. Steve Pemberton as Mr Hardcastle introduces the action with puzzled bemusement, Harry Hadden-Paton and John Heffernan play the Tory townies Young Marlow and Hastings with perfect tongued tied confusion, whilst David Flynn, gives the plum part of Lumpkin, a real sense of being at home in his own beer swilling skin.
The stand out performance though belongs to Sophie Thompson as the affected Mrs Hardcastle, desperate to impress the young dandies she hysterically hides her west country burr behind a ridiculous elongation of vowels. Her actions perplexing her servants, family and guests alike. It's a brilliant performance from an actress totally on top of her game.