nichollsretirementproject

Archive for the month “August, 2017”

“What unexpected good fortune?”

As Mr Hardcastle hurries off-stage in pursuit of Mr Marlow, who wants to inspect the sleeping arrangements, Hastings is left musing on the strange behaviour of his host, whom he still believes to be an innkeeper.  Imagine his surprise and delight when he is joined on-stage by Miss Neville, known as Constance, the lady whom he had come from London to see and with whom he hopes to elope to France.

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MISS NEVILLE:   My dear Hastings! To what unexpected good fortune, to what accident am I to ascribe this happy meeting?

HASTINGS:   Rather let me ask the same question, as I could never have hoped to meet my dearest Constance at an inn.

MISS NEVILLE:   An inn! Sure you mistake!  My aunt. my guardian, lives here.  What could induce you to think this house an inn?

Hastings explains about the meeting with Tony Lumpkin and the deception that he perpetrated on the two visitors.

MISS NEVILLE:  Certainly it must be one of my hopeful cousin’s tricks of whom you have heard me talk so often.

HASTINGS:  He whom your aunt intends for you.  He of whom I have such apprehensions.

Constance’s ‘fortune’ consists of a small chest of jewels that are in the care of her aunt, Mrs Hardcastle, until such time as she marries.  Mrs Hardcastle is determined that Constance should marry her wastrel son, Tony, thereby keeping the jewels in the family.  Tony has no interest in such a liaison and nor does Constance, but they keep up the pretence of a relationship in order to stay on the right side of Mrs Hardcastle, and, in Constance’s case. to conceal the elopement plan.

Hastings and Constance decide not to undeceive Marlow about the fact that they are, in fact, in Mr Hardcastle’s house , because “the strange reserve of his temper is such that, if abruptly informed of it, he would instantly quit the house before our plan was ripe for execution.”

They have to continue the pretence until fresh horses can be procured to take them to France.

When Marlow reappears, Hastings tells him of their great good fortune in that his intended bride, Miss Hardcastle, accompanied by her cousin, Miss Neville, has just arrived at the inn.  “Miss Hardcastle has just stepped into the next room and will be back in an instant. Wasn’t it lucky, eh?”

All of a sudden, all of Marlow’s neuroses about talking to women of ‘quality’ come flooding back as he prepares to meet the woman who has been chosen to be his wife.

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The scene is set for much merry mayhem at Marlow’s expense.

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“Their impudence confounds me!”

Fearing that Mr Hardcastle is about to launch into another of his interminable stories about the Duke of Marborough and the siege of Denain …

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… and still believing  himself to be in the presence of an inn-keeper, Marlow asks what the house has for supper and demands that the cook be called.

When Mr Hardcastle explains, nervously, that Bridget, the cook-maid is not very ‘communicative on these occasions’  and might react to being summoned to the parlour by scolding them all out of the house, Marlow insists on seeing the ‘bill of fare’ for that evening’s supper.

Mr Hardcastle is taken aback by this request.  He has planned an elaborate banquet to welcome Mr Marlow and his father, Sir Charles, to his home but, out of ploiteness to his guests, he agrees to produce the bill of fare.

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He expects the young gentlemen to be impressed with the scale and variety of the supper menu, but as he reads the bill of fare, Mr Marlow fears that the whole feast will appear on his bill at the end of his stay. He mocks Mr Hardcastle for the lavishness of the fare on offer.

The devil, sir, do you think we have brought down the whole Joiners Company or the Corporation of Bedford to eat up such a supper?  Two or three little things, clean and comfortable, will do.”

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Marlow reads out the menu to Hastings, who joins in with the mockery.

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MARLOW:  For the first course, a pig and prune sauce.

HASTINGS:  Damn your pig, say I.

MARLOW:  And damn your prune sauce, say I.  At the bottom, a calf’s tongue and brains.

HASTINGS: Let your brains be knocked out, my good sir, I don’t like them.

MARLOW: Or you may clap them on a plate by themselves, I do.

When Marlow follows up this outrageous behaviour with his insistence on checking that the beds are “properly aired and taken care of”,  Mr Hardcastle is left in a state of total consternation and confusion.

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As he follows Mr Marlow off-stage to go and check the state of the rooms, he sums up his exasperation with the manners of the young gentlemen from London:

This may be modern modesty, but I never saw anything look so much like old-fashioned impudence!”

“Gentlemen, you are heartily welcome!”

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Mr Hardcastle is an old-fashioned, genial host.  “It’s not my way, you see to receive my friends with my back to the fire.  I like to give them a hearty reception in the old style at my gate.”

But the visitors, Mr Marlow and Mr Hastings, believe their host to be a rather talkative and over-familiar inn-keeper and think nothing of talking across him as they discuss the clothes that they intend to wear the following day when they meet their respective ladies.270

At the first opportunity, Mr hardcastle takes the opportunity of launching into one of his favourite stories, about the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene, “When he fought the TUrks at the Battle of Belgrade.”

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The Gentlemen from London are less than impressed.

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A well-looking house, antique but creditable.

After a long and tedious journey by stagecoach from London, Mr Marlow and Mr Hastings arrive at Squire Hardcastle’s house.  Mr Marlow has come to court Miss Hardcastle, at his father’s insistence, whilst Mr Hastings has come to see his sweetheart, Constance, in the hope that he can persuade her to elope with him to France.

Thanks to Tony Lumpkin’s misinformation and mischief, they believe the house to be an inn and, when he finally makes an appearance, they take Mr Hardcastle for the inn-keeper.

As if that were not bad enough, they immediately make themselves at home and “take possession” of Mr Hardcastle’s favourite armchair by the fireside! Outrageous!

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They discuss Mr Marlow unaccountable bashfulness when “in the company of women of reputation”  Marlow explains that his life has mainly been spent in a college or an inn, “in seclusion from that lovely part of creation that chiefly teach men confidence.”

In order to explain his disabling shyness when confronted with ladies of ‘quality‘ and to excuse his predatory behaviour towards women of an inferior social class,  he goes on: “I don’t know that I was ever familiarly acquainted with a single modest woman, apart from my mother, But among females of another class you know…”

(Editor’s note:  seen through modern eyes, Marlow is little short of a monster. He’s a class-ridden, potential rapist who has no thoughts of the impact of his actions on anyone but himself.  During the rehearsals, I pointed out to Marlow that if, in real life, he were to have shown any interest  in my daughter, I would cheerfully have stabbed him! Georgian England was clearly a different time with different mores, though some might argue that not much has changed. But, hey, it’s post-restoration comedy not gritty social realism.)

Their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of their genial host.

 

 

Servants’ training.

Whether or not Mr Hardcastle is a Yorkshireman is not made explicit in She Stoops to Conquer. What is made clear, however, is that he intends to incur no unnecessary expense in preparing for the impending visit to his house by his old friend, Sir Charles and the two young suitors, Mr Marlow and Mr Hastings.

Act Two starts with Mr Hardcastle, fully bewigged in anticipation of company, trying to make some, albeit limited, progress in the training of his non-too-bright servants.

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“I hope you’re all perfect in the table exercises that I’ve been teaching you these three days.  You all know you posts and your places and can show that you have been used to good company.”

Rather than spending money on employing proper servants, the over-talkative Diggory has been “taken from the barn,”  the shepherd, Ned has been brought off the meadow, Susan, the milkmaid has been brought in from the cowshed and Roger has been “advanced from the plough.”  Much training is necessary.

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Diggory, in particular, takes a deal of training, perhaps because of his propensity, like his master, to divert himself with stories of his days in the militia.

Mr HardcastleNow if I should happen to say a good thing or tell a good story at table, you’re not all to burst out a-laughing, like you made part of the company.

Diggory: Then your worship must not tell the story of Ould Grouse in the gunroom.  We’ve laughed at that these twenty years.

Mr Hardcastle:  Ha, Ha the story is a good one.  Well, honest Diggory, you may laugh at that, but remember to be attentive…”

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The training is cut short as Mr Hardcastle hears a coach pulling in the yard. Mr Marlow and Mr Hastings have arrived and Mr Hardcastle sets off to give them a hearty welcome, in the old fashion,  at his gate.

The scene is now set for much confusion and discomforture for all concerned

 

Aye, the ale-house. I thought so!

Tony Lumpkin is in his element.  He’s singing, laughing and getting uproariously drunk with the local villagers in the bar of The Three Pigeons.

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We learn that Tony, when of age, will come into a fortune of £1500 a year, (a considerable fortune in 1773, when She Stoops was written!)  Once the money is his, his ambitions do not go any further than buying the miller’s grey mare and marrying Bet Bouncer …

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… but in the meantime, there is much ale to be drunk and many songs to be sung.

The landlord informs Tony that there are two gentlemen in a post-chaise at the door.  It appears that they are looking for Squire Hardcastle’s house but have lost their way in the forest.

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Tony is aware that his step-father is expecting a visit from the son of his old friend Sir Charles and further questions the landlord. “As sure as can be, one of them must be the gentleman that’s coming down to court my sister. Do they seem to be Londoners?”

The landlord’s reply is one of the many barbed comments in this play aimed at our European cousins on the other side of the English Channel.

“I believe they may,” says he. “They look woundingly like Frenchmen.”

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Tony sees an opportunity to play a trick on Squire Hardcastle.  “Father-in-law has been calling me whelp and hound this half year. Now if I pleased, I could be so avenged on the old grumbletonian!”  (Editor’s note:  In modern English, ‘father-in-law’ suggests a relationship by marriage.  In Georgian English, it just meant a relationship recognised by the law.)

He hatches a plot to fool the young gentlemen, Mr Marlow, who has come to court Kate, and his friend, Hastings, who plans to elope (to France) with Kate’s cousin, Constance.

He tells the young gentlemen that they will not reach Mr Hardcastle’s house that night. “It’s a damned, dark, boggy, dirty, dangerous way,” he tells them. He suggests they go a mile further up the road to the Old Buck’s Head on the hill, one of the best inn’s in the whole country.

This is, of course, Mr Hardcastle’s house, but Tony deepens the deception by warning Marlow and Hastings that “The landlord is rich and going to leave off business, so he wants to be thought a Gentleman. He’ll be for giving you his company and, if you mind him, he’ll persuade you that his mother was an alderman and his aunt a justice of the peace.. A troublesome old blade to be sure, but he keeps as good wines and beds as any in the whole country.”

And so the scene is set for a litany of misunderstanding, misdirection, insolence and social gaffes that keep the comedy rolling along at a pace for the next three acts.

“My pretty darling, Kate.”

Mr Hardcastle dotes on his only daughter, but that doesn’t  stop him berating her about her liking of fine clothes. “What a quantity of superfluous silk thou hast got about thee, girl!”

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“I could never convince the fools of this age that the indigent world could be clothed out of the trimmings of the vain!”

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Mr Hardcastle has important news for his daughter. He is expecting a visit that very evening from the young gentleman that he has chosen to be her husband.  Kate is less than impressed!

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However, as soon as Mr Hardcastle explains that the young Mr Marlow is not only the son of Sir Charles Marlow, but is also young, generous, very handsome and “designed for an employment in the service of his country.”  Kate starts to warm to the idea.

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Having settled his daughter’s future, Mr Hardcastle goes off to train the servants in preparation for the visit of the young gentleman from London. “Since we seldom have company, they want as much training as a company of recruits, the first day’s muster!”

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In the meantime, Kate confides with her cousin, Constance, that she has been “threatened with a lover.”

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Constance tells Kate that she is acquainted with the young Mr Marlow, who is the best friend of her own suitor, Mr Hastings, with whom she plans to elope.

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She then reveals the feature of Mr Marlow’s behaviour towards women that underpins the rest of the comedy of the play. “He’s a very singular character,” explains Constance.  “Amongst women of reputation and virtue, he is the modestest man alive, but his acquaintance give him a very different character among creatures of another stamp, you understand me.”

The scene changes.

 

What this ‘ere play’s about…

Squire Hardcastle, from somewhere up north, is discovered snoozing in his favourite armchair by the fireside,

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He is dreaming, no doubt, of marrying off his charming but independent-minded daughter, Kate, to the son of his old friend, Sir Charles Marlow.  Such a liaison would serve the double purpose of finding Kate a wealthy husband whilst, at the same time,  moving the family a notch or two up the social ladder.

Enter Mrs Hardcastle, who is in love with “London and the fashions though I was never there myself.”  She does, however keep abreast of “all the tete-a-tetes from the ‘scandalous magazines”  She is  wearing an outrageous wig, which we learn she has fashioned herself “from a sketch in the “Ladies Memorandum Book for last year.”

She berates Mr Hardcastle about the fact that they live in “this rambling old mansion that looks for all the world like an inn, but that we never see company… and all our entertainment is your old stories about Prince Eugene and the Duke of Marlborough”.

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Mrs Hardcastle has been married before and had a son by her first husband, Mr Lumpkin.  Thanks to her somewhat imperfect parenting skills, Tony Lumpkin is a wild, roaring twenty-something who, according to his mother, was always too sickly to go to school.

Mr Hardcastle does not consider Tony to be a valuable addition to the family, but Mrs Hardcastle, who is keeping a considerable fortune in jewels in trust for her niece, Constance, is very keen to engineer a marriage between Tony and Constance so that the fortune stays in the family.

To the despair of both of his parents, Tony’s sole interests in life are drinking with the yokels in the local ale-house and lusting after the voluptuous “Bet Bouncer of these parts.”

The plot is set to thicken.

 

 

Open air theatre, don’t you just love it?

The problem with open air theatre in Britain is … that it’s in the open air and therefore at the mercy of the British weather.

On the Friday evening of our run of She Stoops to Conquer at the Brighton Open Air Theatre, (BOAT), it started to rain quite steadily during the second half but, undaunted,  we kept going and the audience stayed with us. Everyone on both sides of the non-existent footlights got wet, but nobody seemed to mind. On Saturday we were supposed to be doing two performances, one at 2.00pm, the other at 7.00pm.

We assembled at the theatre as instructed at just before 1.00 pm and, cruelly, the sky was threatening but the rain was holding off. So, we set up the lights, erected the control tent to protect the lighting and sound technician and her equipment, set the stage and got into our costumes, so that we could be locked away in the hut before the audience started to arrive. At 2.00pm, right on cue, we started the play with the opening country dance and the Prologue. What professionals!

About ten minutes later, it started to rain, not heavily, but rain nonetheless. We sturdy thespians were undeterred. We snapped our fingers at the gathering clouds. Ha! The show must go on!

Then it became a game of chicken between us and the elements. Guess who won?

After about 40 minutes the director came backstage where a couple of us were waiting for our cue lines with the rain dripping from our chins and asked if we were prepared to continue. We said that we were, if the audience were prepared to sit there in their wet weather gear and watch us. After all, they had paid money to see this play. What’s a bit of rain one way or the other?

The play continued for another five minutes and then the decision was taken out of our hands. Reports from the other side of the wall where the sodden onlookers were sitting told us that the rain was now so heavy that, however loudly we declaimed, the poor audience couldn’t hear us over the noise of the rain drumming on their umbrellas. The decision was taken to abandon the show and cancel the evening performance as well.

It was announced to the dripping crowd, that tickets for the Saturday performances would be valid for the final show on Sunday afternoon and everyone went home.

The following day, as if embarrassed by its behaviour on the Saturday, the weather behaved itself impeccably. The costumes were dragged out into the sunshine to dry.

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Even some of the actors were allowed out of the hut to soak up the sun before scurrying back inside as the audience, with their picnic baskets and bottles of wine, started to arrive.

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And so the play got underway.

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What could possibly go wrong?    Funny you should ask!

The young woman who played the part of my daughter, Kate, didn’t look well when she arrived at the theatre. Unfortunately, her role in the play is quite crucial as she is the one who actually ‘stoops to conquer’.  She takes on the role of a serving maid in order to capture the heart of Mr Marlow, the rich and eligible bachelor pictured above.  Mr Marlow has a major social failing in that he becomes cripplingly shy in the presence of woman of a higher social order.

(Actually, viewed in the cold light of day, Mr Marlow is something of a monster.  He is quite willing to seduce any woman of a lower social standing and when challenged by his friend, Hastings, about robbing a  serving wench of her honour defends himself by saying:

“Pshaw! Pshaw!  We all know the honour of the barmaid of an inn.  I don’t intend to rob her, take my word for it.  There’s nothing in this house I shan’t honestly pay for.”

I’m not sure that there was much gender awareness around in 1773.)

Anyway, back to Kate.  As I said, she looked terrible when she arrived but went on stage for her first few scenes and no-one would have known there was anything wrong with her. She switched brilliantly into character and carried the story on with full vigour.

Then came the scene where I, as the grumpy squire, Mr Hardcastle, have a long ‘aside’ to the audience in which I complain about Mr Marlow’s insolent behaviour towards me, including the fact that he has taken possession of my easy chair by the fireside! The speech ends with the words “I am desirous to know how his insolence affects my daughter.  She will certainly be shocked at it.!”

My next line was supposed to addressed to my daughter as she comes on from the back of the stage to join me at the front.

Well, my Kate, I see you have changed your dress as I bid you….”

No Kate.

Whatever bug had caused her to look so ill before the show had tightened its grip on her and made it impossible for her to continue..

A few minutes of frantic ad-libbing ensued before my new ‘daughter’, now in modern dress and some thirty years older, came on stage with the script and read in the lines.  It was in fact the director who happened to backstage just at the right moment.

As I said, the show must go on!

During the interval, my new daughter donned the costume of my original daughter and, script in hand,  played the part through until the end.  The audience suspended its disbelief a bit further and their applause  at the end was generous and fulsome.  They had had a great afternoon despite, or perhaps because of, our distress.

But, hey!  It’s live theatre.  Anything can happen.

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