The Beaux’ Stratagem: As Witty As It Is Clever

By Sam Smith Last edited 39 months ago
The Beaux’ Stratagem: As Witty As It Is Clever ★★★★☆ 4

Restoration comedy at its finest: George Farquhar's The Beaux' Stratagem © Manuel Harlan

Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆

George Farquhar’s The Beaux’ Stratagem is a late Restoration comedy, written in 1707 just before the genre gave way to a more mannered style of entertainment. It concerns two beaux, Aimwell and Archer, who are short of money and decide to visit cities until they manage to woo and marry wealthy heiresses solely for their fortunes. Things, however, become complicated when in Lichfield Aimwell really does fall in love with Dorinda, the daughter of Lady Bountiful.

At the same time, Archer (posing as Aimwell’s servant as a part of their plan) falls for Dorinda’s sister-in-law Mrs Sullen, even though she is already married, albeit to a loveless, selfish, drunken squire. If that wasn’t enough there are French prisoners of war roaming freely around the city, highwaymen intent on burgling Lady Bountiful’s house and even an Irishman masquerading as a French priest! This might all be too much if the play were simply a farce, but it is also an intelligent piece that offers many insights into early eighteenth century life and values.

In Simon Godwin’s production on the National Theatre’s Olivier stage the sets depicting Lichfield Inn and Lady Bountiful’s house are skilfully rolled into one. It only takes a door to swing closed revealing a mirror and shelves of china, and paintings and chandeliers to descend from the ceiling, to delineate these two very different areas.

Farquhar’s dialogue is highly witty, even when it is dark and cutting, and the cast brings out all of the humour with excellent enunciation. Although the original play is very much respected there is a sense in which a modern slant is being applied to many of the issues raised, while the fun is also maintained by seeing several songs accompanied by solo instrumentalists who grace the stage with their violins and accordions. From among the strong cast, Samuel Barnett as Aimless, Geoffrey Streatfeild as Archer, Susannah Fielding as Mrs Sullen and Pearce Quigley as the servant Scrub stand out in particular.

In rep until 20 September at the National Theatre, South Bank, London SE1 9PX. For tickets (£15-35) visit the National Theatre website. Londonist saw this play on a complimentary ticket.

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Last Updated 29 May 2015