Cast: David Fynn, Harry Hadden-Paton, John Heffernan, Cush Jumbo, Katherine Kelly, Steve Pemberton, Sophie Thompson
Director: Jamie Lloyd
Running time: 190 mins
Verdict: Funny as a fight, and our Becky's good too, innit
Playwright Oliver Goldsmith described this satire-cum-farce, first performed in 1773, as his "laughing comedy".
He meant to distinguish it from the so-called sentimental comedies then in vogue, whose principal aim was to show villains getting their comeuppance and so reaffirm the virtues of middle-class morality.
And this company certainly plays it for laughs. There's an almost vaudevillean tone to the way lines are delivered at the audience, either as winking asides or directly - at one point one character says of another, "don't encourage him".
As the original title, Mistakes of a Night, implies, it's a play of misapprehensions, deceptions and mistaken identity. All the action, except one early important scene, takes place in the home of Mr Hardcastle (Pemberton), where two London dandies, Charles Marlow (Hadden-Patton) and George Hastings (Heffernan) arrive late one night, after having lost their way.
Crucially, they have been led to believe the house is a well-appointed inn, when it is in fact their destination; Hardcastle has invited the well-heeled Marlow in the hope he will court his daughter Kate (Kelly, better known as Corrie Street's Becky). The two proceed to treat their host disdainfully, with comic results; Kate, meanwhile, realising that Marlow is tongue-tied in the company of fancy women, pretends to be a maid the better to seduce him - thus she stoops to conquer.
Jamie Lloyd, at barely 30 the youngest director ever to helm a production at the National, extracts fantastic performances from his cast: the pace is such that the three-hour running time never drags and the musical interludes, in which the cast channels the Swingle Singers, give a fresh, bright edge to things.
Better still, the story often seems quite modern: class and gender politics raise their heads frequently and when one character pronounces the word "London" as though it's a communicable disease, it has the ring a very contemporary truth.
This is probably the purest fun of any NT show we've seen here yet, including the impeccable London Assurance. Watch out for it; the season and the session numbers are, as always, very limited.
- TimeOutBy Peter Calder Email Peter