THE BEAUX' stratagem
Director: Simon Goodwin
Writer: George Farquhar
Runtime: 160 mins (including interval)
Australian release date: 10 October 2015
Previewed at: Nova Cinema, Melbourne, on 30 September 2015.
Time Out in London described The Beaux’ Stratagem, the latest offering captured on screen from the National Theatre Live, as “exuberant and deliciously modern.” And it is, which is quite a feat considering it was first produced in 1707! Simon Goodwin (Man And Superman) has successfully brought George Farquhar’s comedy alive, refreshing it for a 21st century audience, and the result is a sheer delight. It has opened the door for a new take on Restoration comedies by adopting a modernist approach to manners and social satire.
The ‘beaux’ of the title are the two main characters, Mr. Aimwell (Samuel Barnett) and Mr. Archer (Geoffrey Streatfeild), young wastrels who have blown all their money on the high-life in London. Thus, they set off to Lichfield in the Staffordshire countryside with the express desire of wooing and wedding a local heiress - or two - who can turn their misfortune around. In other words, their ‘stratagem’ is to marry for money, love not being high on their list.
Arriving at an inn, Archer pretends he is Aimwell’s servant and they reinforce their façade as men of worth by convincing the landlord, Boniface (Lloyd Hutchinson), to keep their remaining assets safe while they freshen up from their trip. While in Lichfield they come across a myriad of characters including a highwayman and his gang, a captured French count, a drunken country squire, an opportunistic maid, an angry butler, a natural healer - who just happens to be the wealthy Lady Bountiful - and a rather weird priest. Like Archer, Aimwell and Lady Bountiful , Farquhar gave many of his characters names relating to their roles or positions, for example, Gibbet is the highwayman, Scrub a servant and Sullen the ill-tempered drunk, to name a few.
When Aimwell and Archer meet their matches in Dorinda (Pippa Bennett-Warner) , Lady Bountiful’s daughter, and Mrs. Sullen (Susannah Fielding) , Dorinda’s sister in-law who’s married to the obnoxious Squire Sullen, the story goes in to overdrive. At the same time, the innkeeper’s daughter Cherry falls in love with Archer, Gibbet and his gang are planning to rob the Bountiful residence, Count Bellair is wooing Mrs. Sullen and… you get the picture? It starts to get really interesting and, as the plot thickens, the skilful script takes you for a great ride full of mad laugh-out-loud moments.
Once again the National Theatre Live has provided us with a delight and a wonderful way to spend a few hours at the cinema while feeling like you’re watching the production live. The simple set design is brilliant, changing back and forth from the inn to the Bountiful estate, and it marries well with the fast-paced script. For good measure, there are a couple of songs and a few dance steps that’ll make you want to jump out of your seat to join in. Without giving the game away, it’s refreshing to bear witness to Farquhar’s cynicism about the charms of matrimony when confronted with the choice of either love or money. Which will win out in the end? Go and see this highly entertaining production to find out for yourself.