The Theatreguide.London Review
Olivier Theatre 2012
Oliver Goldsmith's 1773 comedy is very funny, and Jamie Lloyd's production at the National Theatre captures much of its comic potential.
If it is only intermittently as fall-down-laughing hilarious as you could wish it would be all the way through, there is still enough of what could be there to satisfy the newcomer and enough fresh touches to entertain those who know the play.
Goldsmith began with two first-rate comic premises: first imagining a man-about-town who is at ease with whores and servant girls but paralysingly shy with women of his own class, and second, sending him into the country to meet a prospective bride but letting him think her father's home an inn and the girl a barmaid.
You could probably write the rough outline of the rest of the play yourself, though without Goldsmith's wit and colourful characterisations.
The situation once established, this is a comedy of character, with both the central couple and those around them generating their misadventures because of who they are, so a lot depends on the personalities the director and actors can create or bring to each figure.
As the misinformed and split-personality hero, Harry Hadden-Paton too often drifts in and out of comic mode, at his best when least restrained and giving what amounts to a (surely unconscious) Rik Mayall impersonation, with the same wild-eyed lustful ogling alternating with the same flailing-limbed embarrassment.
As the girl who twigs early to his error and uses it to her advantage, Katherine Kelly is somewhat constrained by having to be the play's good-sense anchor, her comic turns limited to the arched eyebrow and witty aside, which she delivers with aplomb.
Steve Pemberton somewhat underplays the father treated like an innkeeper, investing him with more warmth and less foolishness than veterans of the play might expect, but it works, and he is counterbalanced by Sophie Thompson as his affected wife, she finding fresh colours in the character by giving her a bizarre affected accent and manner of speaking that are hilarious whenever the actress remembers to use them and not lapse back into ordinary speech.
As uncouth but good-hearted Tony Lumpkin David Fynn is a little too lumpen and not nice-guy-at-the-core enough for my taste, but John Heffernan is droll in the usually characterless role of hero's friend.
So, not quite enough to make it wonderful, but enough that's on the target and enough that's fresh to make it fun.
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