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Review: The Beaux Stratagem, National Theatre "Its Fun is Infectious"

31/07/2015 18:04 BST | Updated 30/07/2016 10:59 BST

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I so wanted to be cynical about The Beaux Stratagem but it is just impossible. Its sense of fun is infectious and if you don't find yourself laughing and smiling, well, you're probably dead.

Aimwell (Samuel Barnett) and Archer (Geoffrey Streatfeild) are two opportunists, two charming but devious young men who've blown their fortunes in London, and who've come to Lichfield with the great idea of swindling a local beautiful heiress out of her fortune - pretend to love her and live off her income for years!

What a great idea. What could possibly POSSIBLY go wrong?

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So they pose as man and servant at the local inn, engaging the innkeeper (Lloyd Hutchinson) and his daughter (Amy Morgan), with hints of a secret life and access to vast sums of money.

But the naïve heiress Aimwell has his cruel heart set on is Dorinda (Pippa Bennett-Warner) only she is protected by her feisty, streetwise sister-in-law (the ever impressive Susannah Fielding) and what started off as a simple plan soon starts to unravel.

Of course it does! And of course we all know where this will end up. Everyone will fall in love - in spite of themselves - and we'll all wind up with a big song and dance number to send us on our way. We know this. WE KNOW THIS. But we don't care. Why? Because the journey is just so, so good.

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The cast are energetic and enthusiastic, throwing themselves into their clichés with gusto, whether it's the tavern wench trying to make good, the savvy and scheming wealthy woman from London, or the moping French Count pouring his deep and profound emotions into every word and interaction.

And it was that which worried me - could I withstand a Restoration Comedy without judging it through my modern, feminist eyes? How many mother-in-law jokes could I take? How many saucy Carry On-esque nods and winks could I sit through?

But I needn't have feared as, much like George Farquhar's other play, The Recruiting Officer, which was brilliantly revived recently at the Donmar, the myriad of overlapping plots and stories keep the mind engaged and the combined efforts of the cast and creative team enable this production to navigate quite nimbly around the more tricky parts of this 300 year old play.

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The direction from Simon Godwin is glorious. Music and dance numbers are effortlessly segued in, often preluded with a nod and a wink. The writing is mined for all the humour it's worth, and the pacing is superb with moments of high farce blended with corny but sweet declarations of love.

You can fight it all you want, people, but resistance is futile. The Beaux Stratagem will lift you up and make you smile.

National Theatre, London to September 20, 2015

Image Credits:

1.Timothy Watson, Jane Booker, Pearce Quigley, Amy Morgan, Molly Gromadzki and Nicholas Khan, The Beaux' Stratagem © Manuel Harlan

2.Jane Booker (Lady Bountiful), Samuel Barnett (Aimwell), Geoffrey Streatfeild (Archer) and Pippa Bennett-Warner (Dorinda), The Beaux' Stratagem, © Manuel Harlan

3.Timothy Watson (Count Bellair) and Susannah Fielding (Mrs Sullen), The Beaux' Stratagem ©Manuel Harlan

4.Mark Rose (Hounslow), Esh Alladi (Bagshot), Lloyd Hutchinson (Boniface) and Chook Sibtain (Gibbet), The Beaux' Stratagem © Manuel Harlan