April 15th, 2012

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5* Restoration Comedies: She Stoops to Conquer vs The Recruiting Officer

For the last few months, Restoration Comedy has been all the vogue on the London stage with two excellent productions that have been packing the punters in and that have been universally loved by audiences (they are the only people I care about!) and critics alike.

There is "She Stoops to Conquer" at the National:

Photo credit: http://newsroom.unl.edu/announce/todayatunl/1159/6920

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And The Recruiting Officer over at the Donmar:

Photo credit: http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2012/feb/15/the-recruiting-officer-review

Photo credit: http://www.theartsdesk.com/theatre/recruiting-officer-donmar-warehouse

Production information about She Stoops to Conquer can be found here:
The production still has a week to run and closes next Saturday (21 April).

Production information about The Recruiting Office can be found here:
The production closed tonight (Saturday 14 April).

I have seen both productions twice so how do they compare and which do I prefer? (please note that this is my personal opinion, other people will have their own opinion, and that is as it should be).

In my humble opinion, the stronger of the two plays is She Stoops to Conquer; there is a stronger story/plot running through it; the characters are intrinsically likeable, people who you can empathise with, and you can see yourself and your friends and family reflected in them; and there is a proper resolution with a happy ending for everyone at the end. This is what I remember and loved about Restoration Comedies. Over at the Donmar, I found many of the characters quite dark, cynical and devoid of any morality or conscience, and so it was hard to empathise with them. The characters in a Restoration Comedy should be likeable, like you, and should be redeemed at the end of the play, having learnt from the journey that they have been on over the course of the play; you got that with She Stoops to Conquer, less so with The Recruiting Officer.

The comedy in She Stoops to Conquer is gentler too, you are usually laughing along with the characters, not at them. I loved the way the actors interact conspiratorially on many occasions throughout the play with the front few rows of the stalls and draw the audience in to their little games. In this way, they brought the comedy alive, and the actors carried the whole house with them; this is quite a feat in a theatre like the Olivier which seats 1150 people. Considering it is such a vast auditorium, the actors managed to create a very intimate feel to the piece which is all to their credit. The comedy in She Stoops to Conquer also comes, predominantly, from the actors interacting and playing off eachother; they all seemed to be having a ball and really enjoying themselves tonight. In The Recruiting Officer I felt that a lot of the comedy came from actors doing "turns" eg Mark Gatiss whenever he came on, or Mackenzie Crook playing at being a fortune-telling gypsy. She Stoops to Conquer, although it had a lot of star names in it, felt to me more like an ensemble piece; The Recruiting Officer often felt to me like star actors doing star turns.

The costumes, the props and the scenery on both productions are outstanding. I liked the fact that at the Donmar they bring a live hen onto the stage every night (although what animal rights activists would think of this I do not know!).

The only aspect where I considered The Recruiting Officer superior was to have the musicians as actor musicians live on stage. Over at the National, they have actor singers on stage but the musicians are up in the wings, as they usually are at the National (to deviate slightly for a moment, one of THE best things about One Man, Two Guvnors, which is nominated for so many awards at the Oliviers and was another production beloved of audiences and critics alike was the live band on stage playing original songs at the start, in the interval, the end, AND between scenes). I love having music and musicians as part and parcel of a theatre production (not just musicals) - long may it continue!

As I have already said, what I have written is just my own very humble opinion and I am more than open to challenge on everything that I have written.

And so the winner is (drum roll please!) ... She Stoops to Conquer, a National Theatre production (what a surprise!).

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Olivier Results are in: Congratulations to Benedict Cumberbatch!

Photo credit: http://wherediditallgorightblog.wordpress.com/tag/theatre/

The Olivier Awards Website can be found here:

First and foremost, the BIG NEWS for this community is that Benedict Cumberbatch (jointly with Jonny Lee Miller) won Best Actor for Frankenstein at the Olivier Theatre.


In fact, they were the only people whom I was backing that won anything!

However, Collaborators at the Cottesloe Theatre did win Best New Play; and although I was backing One Man, Two Guvnors, I can live with this as it is still the National Theatre and it is still Nick Hytner (Director)!

Commiserations to Nick Hytner for missing out on Best Director. But he has won before, for The History Boys, so I am sure he can cope (although I personally think it is a travesty!).

Overall, Matilda picked up a grand total of 7 Oliviers. This is simply mind-blowing and set a new record for the number of wins by a single show. Although I don't talk about them that much, I LOVE a good West End musical and I have seen virtually all the long running ones at some time or another. However, I have not yet seen Matilda, as I mistakenly saw it as a "children's piece". I need to go and see it as soon as I can. The four Matildas receiving their joint award for Best Actress in a Musical has just got to be one of the cutest moment EVER on a theatre awards show!

Speaking of musicals, I was really pleased that lyricist Tim Rice got an Olivier Special Award. I am a huge Tim Rice fan and I love Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King. One of his less famous musicals Chess, also contains within it one of my favourite musical theatre songs ever, "I Know Him So Well", which still has the power to completely floor me. It was sung at the Olivier ceremony tonight and I loved the rendition!

Finally, a special thank you to Anneka Rice who was hosting the red button coverage and who gave a special shout out to NT Live, saying how brilliant it was. I couldn't agree more. Anneka talked about how it was bringing the best of London Theatre out to everyone, as you could take your whole family to the cinema at an affordable price, at a cinema close to where you lived, and have the best theatre beamed direct to you from the National Theatre. She spoke very passionately about how much she and her family enjoyed it and how it was genuinely opening up access to the best theatre for everyone. I agree!

If you want to see Frankenstein and missed it last year when it was on at the National (or could not get tickets for it) please note that there are encore screenings of both versions of Frankenstein coming to cinemas across the UK and worldwide in June. Follow the link for all the details:
This may be your last chance to see it, so don't miss it and get your tickets in now!

The full list of winners can be found here:

And that's the Oliviers done and dusted for another year!

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