by Oliver Goldsmith

Oxford Playhouse until 21st Sept

Out of Joint specialise in new writing, so it’s a surprise to see them co-producing an C18th classic with the National Theatre. But with a fresh democratic gloss from an added prologue and epilogue, and a sharp, assured cast this savage comedy of class snaps convincingly into modern British romantic comedy mode.

Ian Redford plays the country Lord, immured in decaying gentility and surrounded by acres of land with multitudinous dogs. A gloriously shameless Jane Wood is his desolate wife, dreaming of a London she only knows from magazines. His daughter Kate (a storming performance from Monica Dolan) and her ward Constance (Firtha Goodey, all sullen dignity and sharp comments) try not to let country life cramp their style. The son of the house, whining wideboy Tony Lumpkin (played as precocious muppet by Owen Sharpe) rages, sulks and drinks, to the sorrow of his doting mother. Reluctant suitor to Kate, overwhelmingly shy, and running cover for his friend George Hastings (pursuing an affair with Constance), bumbling Charles Marlow proves an irresistable target for Tony, drunk and up for a laugh at the expense of two posh blokes from the city.

As Charles and George (played with precious perfection by Christopher Staines and Stephen Beresford) wander further out of their depth, Tony (always ready with a scheme) sticks his oar in, making matters worse. But Charles is only shy around posh women, and Kate is a schemer herself; and Tony, for all that he’s an idiot, has the nous to see clearly what people want. He also can’t read, which isn’t funny, nor should it be; there’s no romance in being poor or stupid, and it’s this insight which really sets the play apart. That, and a set of perfomances so finely judged that everything from the fabulous staging to the asides seems natural, effortless, and very, very funny.

Jeremy Dennis, 16.09.02