4 September 2015

NT Live: The Beaux’ Stratagem

Like a lot of other hicks in the sticks (and a good few Londoners who don’t get seats at the National Theatre), I’ve enjoyed NT Live cinema screenings and posted about them here (Skylight, The Hard Problem, Man and Superman). I wasn’t sure I would enjoy the Restoration comedy, The Beaux’ Stratagem, first performed in 1707 and written by George Farquhar (1677 – 1707). This revival is running at the NT until 20 September. 

There is a summary of the plot on Wikipedia. In brief, two young and unscrupulous toffs, Aimwell and Archer, on the lookout for some women with money to marry, fetch up at an inn in the city of Lichfield in the English Midlands. They encounter Lady Bountiful’s daughter, Dorinda and her sister-in-law, Mrs Sullen, unhappily married to Lady Bountiful’s son. The actions of the innkeeper, his daughter, the highwaymen they collude with, and Lady Bountiful’s factotum, Scrub, provide the sub-plots which might stop the main characters getting what they want, but eventually, of course, they do. I could see some parallels with Da Ponte's plot for Mozart's Così fan tutte (1790).

Simon Godwin who directed The Beaux’ Stratagem, also directed Man and Superman but this time kept to the original period. This was a good idea -  the sort of audience this play is likely to get can work out the relevancies to contemporary life (feminism, Anglo-French relations* etc) for themselves. Lizzie Clachan’s set design (above) was ingenious and even more complex than it seemed at first sight. The craft of the performers – they sang, they danced, they made complicated coordinated movements across, up and down the set, every word being clearly delivered – was faultless. Hours of work must have gone into the staging. All the performances were good but Susannah Fielding as Mrs Sullen right) and Geoffrey Streatfeild as Archer were particularly impressive.

The NT Live showing in the UK and Europe was on 3 September; Encore showings in the UK and other countries can be found on the NT Live website. The interval included a brief “Making of …” film which will probably get onto YouTube. It concentrated on the staging but it would be interesting to learn a little about the transmission techniques, presumably via satellite, for example is it in 4K resolution?

*The War of the Spanish Succession  (1701-14) was presumably the reason why French officers were being detained in Lichfield circa 1707. The Recruiting Officer (1706) is another well-known play by Farquhar.

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