The Beaux’ Stratagem

“O sister, sister! if ever you marry, beware of a sullen, silent sot, one that’s always musing, but never thinks. There’s some diversion in a talking blockhead; and since a woman must wear chains, I would have the pleasure of hearing ’em rattle a little.”

written by George Farquhar

Cast: Esh Alladi, Samuel Barnett, Jamie Beamish, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Jane Booker, Cornelius Clarke, Susannah Fielding, Molly Gromadzki, John Hastings, Richard Henders, Lloyd Hutchinson, Chris Kelham, Nicholas Khan, Barbara Kirby, Ana-Maria Maskell, Amy Morgan, Pearce Quigley, Mark Rose, Chook Sibtain, Geoffrey Streatfeild, Timothy Watson

Directed by Simon Godwin

Broadcast live from the Natioal Theatre, 3rd September, 2015

Summary: The ‘Beaux’: Mr Aimwell and Mr Archer, two charming, dissolute young men who have blown their fortunes in giddy London. Shamed and debt-ridden, they flee to provincial Lichfield. Their ‘Stratagem’: to marry for money. Lodged at the local inn, posing as master and servant, they encounter a teeming variety of human obstacles: a crooked landlord, a fearsome highwayman, a fervent French Count, a maid on the make, a drunken husband, a furious butler, a natural healer and a strange, turbulent priest. But their greatest obstacle is love. When the Beaux meet their match in Dorinda and Mrs Sullen they are most at risk, for in love they might be truly discovered.

This was our second Restauration comedy in as many months, and as with “She stoops to conquer“, this one was also a hoot and a half.

The play follows a couple of young men who have fallen on financially hard times and decide that travelling to the countryside to marry into wealthy families to fatten up their purses would be the way to go. Once arrived in Lichfield, their first stop on a pre-planned tour of England to hunt for suitable candidates, they quickly fall for some young ladies, one of which is – quite unhappily – married to a wealthy but uninterested and perpetually drunk brute, while the other is said married beauty’s innocent sister-in-law.

There are also some nice little side plots, such as the innkeeper and his consorts’ plan to rob the wealthy family’s home while the drunken husband sleeps of his booze at the inn, the love-sick French soldier, etc. etc. The constant running up and down two flights of stairs alone must give the actors a serious workout each and every performance. I hope they all suspended their gym memberships during this run. All the little plots come to a head in a hilariously choreographed fight scene that will leave you gasping for breath from laughing.

The cast is very good throughout, especially our young heroes and heroines Samuel Barnett, Geoffrey Streatfeild, Susannah Fielding, and Pippa Bennett-Warner. I also very much enjoyed the antics of it’s-Sunday-so-I-must-be-the-butler Scrub (Pearce Quigley). Some of the cast have serious pipes on them, which the production uses to its advantage through very funny song-and-dance intermezzos. That blasted trifle song got stuck in my head all the way to the parking lot and then some.

All in all, this innuendo laden and slapstick heavy romp is a lot of fun to watch.

It’s a real shame that this screening didn’t attract a bigger audience (at least at my cinema), probably because it came in late in the screening season and lacks a “big star” (be it actor or playwright) to lure people into the cinema, and also because early 18th century English comedy is presumably not a very largely known genre in my neck of the woods.

Watch the trailer:

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