Sunday, 17 August 2014

The Beaux Stratagem: a non-stop laugh fest

Stratford Festival
Festival Theatre
Written by George Farquhar
Directed by Antoni Cimolino
Approximate running time: 2 hours and 36 minutes (with one 15 minute interval)
August 15-September 20
Toll-free: 1.800.567.1600
STRATFORD – After opening the season on such a magnificently tragic note with Colm Feore’sKing Lear, it seems only fitting to debut the last show for 2014 featuring the same splendid actor showcasing his considerable comic skills in a theatrical laugh fest.
That’s exactly what happened Friday night with the opening of George Farquhar’s feast of chuckles and belly laughs, The Beaux’ Stratagem, one of the last great Restoration comedies and an endlessly witty satire that playfully pokes fun at all classes of society but with a sense of gentility and almost kindness.
For those unable to figure out the basic plot in the brief moments between the cascades of rapid-fire dialogue, pratfalls, stereotypical drunken husbands and some wildly outrageous sight gags, here it is in the proverbial nutshell:
Archer (Colm Feore) and Aimwell (Mike Shara), two fashionable young 18th Century gents posing as servant and master, have fallen on hard times. They plan to travel through small towns, entrap young heiresses, take their money and quickly move on. But there is a single but plot-altering snag in the first stop they make.
In the first town on their nefarious journey, Lichfield, they target Dorinda (Bethany Jillard) but as fate as would have it, Aimwell falls in love with her, dismaying Archer, who has his eyes on the wealthy Mrs. Sullen (Lucy Peacock).
The storyline, top heavy with genuinely funny interplay between all cast members and with its comic twists and turns, almost seems secondary to the company’s masterful performances. Director Antoni Cimolino’s pacing has the production’s two hours and 36 minutes seeming more like an hour of non-stop brilliant silliness and hilarity.
You leave starved for more.
With his legs sharply shooting out into space from the effects of the powerful ale selected by the chatty but suspicious landlord Will Boniface (Robert King), Shara brings down the house with his mastery of physical and verbal humour.
Feore, fresh from his heart-wrenching portrayal of Lear, shows he’s no slouch when it comes to broad and more subtle comedy, chewing up and spitting out his dialogue at an earth shattering speed. Peacock, unhappy in love, is delightful as she jousts with her oft-time drunken disinterested hubbie, Squire Sullen, brought to life by the wonderful Scott Wentworth.
Yet, in spite of the first rate work from the aforementioned leads, the play’s hands-down scene stealer is clearly the multi-talented Martha Henry, whose sword wielding Lady Bountiful is simply brilliant and guaranteed to lighten up even the most sombre of audience members. It is a character to remember well past the evening’s end.
To prove that even secondary characters can grab their share of the guffaws, Gordon S. Miller as the annoyingly ever-present Scrub turns the simple act of a cowardly retreat into an art, complete with an awe-inspiring leap from the floor into a bed, wrapping himself like a cocoon with one swift grab at the bed linen.

This was a magical night of comedy. Hats off to Cimolino and a picture perfect cast. This is how comedy is done properly.

5 out of 5 stars

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