She Stoops to Conquer

Maidment Theatre, Auckland

02/05/2009 - 23/05/2009

Production Details


Outrageous Fortune star Antonia Prebble will make her stage debut in Auckland Theatre Company’s brand new production of Oliver Goldsmith’s ribald comedy of bad manners SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER directed by Michael Hurst at Maidment Theatre from April 30.

Prebble rose to fame as a core cast member of THE TRIBE before landing the role as the little sister, Loretta West, on OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE. She will take the stage as Kate Hardcastle, the daughter of a wealthy landowner who "stoops to conquer" by posing as a barmaid to lure a husband.

Playing opposite Prebble as the awkward Charles Marlowe is the aptly named Arthur Meek, who won the Chapman Tripp Theatre Award Best Male Newcomer in 2008 for his hit comedy ON THE CONDITIONS AND POSSIBILITIES OF HELEN CLARK TAKING ME AS HER LOVER.

"All out fun and frivolity" Daily Mail

In the tireless search for Mrs Right, it’s the Miss Wrongs that make it all worthwhile.

Charles Marlow, tongue-tied and uptight, needs a lesson in the art of love. He longs for a wife, but finds it easier to have a bit on the side. The barmaid seems fair game – but there’s more to her than meets the eye.

With its outrageous mix of secret elopements and nocturnal confusions, Goldsmith’s classic comedy has delighted audiences for over two centuries.

"The sheer verve of the exuberantly witty dialogue was quite enough to keep the 21st century audience roaring with laughter." The Guardian

Continuing their reputations for imaginative interpretations of classic comedies, Michael Hurst with creative team Elizabeth Whiting, John Verryt and Jeremy Fern, will give the rebels of SHE STOOPS TO CONCQUER a fashion makeover as they transport the play from the wigs and fans of the 1770s to the bouffants and Vespas of 1959.

"A few seasons back Michael directed Shakespeare’s TWELFTH NIGHT for Auckland Theatre Company," says Auckland Theatre Company Artistic Director Colin McColl.

"The show was transported from the 1600s Italy to a tropical Island in mid-twentieth century with great effect. So I’m delighted Michael Hurst will give another great rumbustious com­edy a glorious makeover with his inimita­ble comedic style and verve."

"This is SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER as you’ve never seen it before!" says costume designer Elizabeth Whiting, "it’s 1959 so we’ve got teddy boys, winkle-pickers and brothel creepers.

Returning to the stage as Marlowe’s off-sider Hastings is Paul Ellis. After his character Fergus Kearney left Waverly standing at the altar on Shortland Street, Ellis lived in the UK for six years before returning to New Zealand where he has juggled his day job at Silo Theatre with performance.

Michael Whalley and Esther Stephens round out the band of badly behaved young lovers as Toby Lumpkin and Constance Neville. Two cousins whose impending marriage is a contrivance by meddling parents to keep wealth and jewels in the family but who in reality not-so-secretly loathe each other.

SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER will give audiences a riotous night of theatrical misunderstandings and belly-aching laughter. Tickets can be purchased from the Maidment Theatre on 308 2383 or  

The extraordinary Oliver Goldsmith

Irish playwright Oliver Goldsmith was born in Roscommon in 1728. Soon after his birth his family moved to Kilkenny West, where Goldsmith first went to school. In 1744 he went to Trinity College, Dublin, but his life at college was miserable. He graduated in 1749 and was a tutor for a time, but lost his position as the result of a quarrel. He decided later to emigrate to America, but missed his ship.

When he was 24 he was endowed and went to Edinburgh to study medicine, where for a year and a half he made only slight pretence at attending lectures. In 1756 he arrived in London and turned his hand to every sort of work: translation, the writing of superficial histories, children’s books, and general articles.

Through the publication of THE BEE and the LIFE OF BEAU NASH, Goldsmith achieved considerable popularity, and his fortunes began to mend. He belonged to the circle of writers known as ‘The Club’ which included such writers as Johnson, Burke, and Reynolds.

His works THE TRAVELLER and THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD firmly established his reputation as a poet. He wrote his first play, THE GOOD NATUR’D MAN, in 1768 and quickly followed it up with THE DESERTED VILLAGE, and his theatrical masterpiece, SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER, which was hugely successful.

But Goldsmith’s carelessness, his intemperance and his gambling soon brought him into debt. Broken in health and mind, he died in 1774.

Auckland Theatre Company
Maidment Theatre, 30 April – 23 May
Mon (4 May only) – Wed, 6.30pm
Thur – Sat, 8pm
Sun Afternoons, 4pm
Sat Matinee, 16 and 23 May, 2pm
Book: 308-2383 or

Antonia Prebble:  Miss Hardcastle
Arthur Meek:  Young Marlow
Ellie Smith:  Mrs Hardcastle
Cameron Rhodes:  Hardcastle
Paul Ellis:  Hastings
Michael Whalley:  Tony Lumpkin
Esther Stephens:  Miss Neville
Paul Barrett:  Sir Charles Marlow/Diggory

John Verryt:  set
Elizabeth Whiting:  costumes
Jeremy Fern:  lighting

Theatricality to the fore

Review by Caoilinn Hughes 05th May 2009

Satirical restoration comedy-come-farcical romantic comedy, Michael Hurst’s adaptation of Oliver Goldsmith’s eighteenth century classic, She Stoops to Conquer (1773), brings this buoyant eighteenth century script into the mid-twentieth century, adding fresh punch along the way.

The production flyer speaks volumes, with Outrageous Fortune star Antonia Prebble holding up two ‘jugs’ of beer promiscuously. In the lead role of Kate Hardcastle, Prebble plays the courteous young daughter of a wealthy landowner. By posing as an approachable country barmaid, she stoops to conquer a suitor who is painfully shy around genteel women. Charles Marlow, the prospective husband – wonderfully characterized by Arthur Meek – is a lady’s man extraordinaire when it comes to working class women, but fails miserably with upper-class women. Thus, the play unfolds in a hotchpotch of mistaken identity and trickery.

The opening scene introduces the head of the household, Mr. Hardcastle (played unassumingly by Cameron Rhodes) and his gauche wife, Mrs. Hardcastle (played by Ellie Smith). Smith’s wonderful physicality embraces the play’s slapstick element and her purple-tinged hair coupled with her strong Northern English accent brings a touch of Coronation Street to Auckland’s Maidment Theatre. In contrast, Rhodes adds a touch of Emmerdale; particularly amongst John Verryt and Elizabeth Whiting’s wonderfully flamboyant set. Finally, their leather-clad son, Tony Lumpkin – played by Michael Whalley – brings Eastenders to the mix. And so, the play becomes ‘so English’, as the director put it, ‘that any attempt to make it [fit] New Zealand… would be unsuccessful’.

The shrubbery-filled set sees Marlow and his sidekick, George Hastings (played like the proper cricket-playing English public-schoolboy by Paul Ellis), descend through sloped stage on Vespa-style scooters, earning a round of applause and a peal of laughter. If any of the audience members had been unsure about the play’s setting, they can rest assured at this point that we are not in the 1700s.

"I’ve changed about 4% of it", the director told me during the interval, which I was a little reluctant to believe, listening to numerous references to ‘Monty’ (officer Bernard Montgomery, 1887-1976) and watching the 1950s British subculture ‘mods’ and ‘rockers’ take to the stage. Having said that, the adaptations are highly appropriate; in particular, the reference to Montgomery, whose father was an Anglo-Irish vicar, as was Goldsmith’s father. Here, Hurst is adding a nice meta-theatrical layer to the play, which is re-enforced with the countless asides, the moving statue, and the bollywood-style finale.

Auckland Theatre Company’s interpretation of this classic comedy brings the play’s theatricality confidently to the fore, in place of propriety. If a little fast-paced at times, the play keeps the audience alert and laughing throughout its duration. It runs in the Maidment Theatre until May 23rd and is well worth the outing.
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Passions of youth swing to late ’50s styles and sounds

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 04th May 2009

Oliver Goldsmith’s 18th century comedy of manners is known as the perennial favourite of English regional theatre, but fully professional productions of She Stoops to Conquer are something of a rarity in Auckland.

Michael Hurst’s high-spirited modernisation has a freshness and vitality that should make the classic story of mistaken identity accessible to a younger audience. The play’s multiple layers of dissimulation – with ironical asides pitched directly at the audience – creates a distinctly post-modern texture. [More
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A good night out with lots of laughs

Review by Jessie Kollen 03rd May 2009

Some jokes never get old and the Auckland Theatre Company’s production of She Stoops to Conquer gets the audience laughing as much as it must have done when it was first staged back in 1773. 

Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer is a comedy of manners, a kind of comedy that began to appear on English theatres in the 1660s.  Social issues are often illuminated by the plot and the storylines are a medley of scandals and propriety, satire and slapstick, twists and tangles, mistaken identities and misunderstandings which are neatly knitted into a satisfying ending. 

The main characters of a comedy of manners are usually members of the upper class and She Stoops to Conquer is no different.  The story centres on the Hardcastles, a wealthy English family who live in the country with their daughter, Kate, and Mrs Hardcastle’s son from a previous marriage, Tony Lumpkin; as well as Mrs Hardcastle’s niece, Miss Constance Neville.  Mr Hardcastle invites a friend’s son, Charles Marlowe, to visit as a prospective suitor for Kate. 

Marlowe brings a friend, George Hastings, who has previously met and fallen in love with Miss Neville.  On their way to the Hardcastle’s home for the first time, Marlowe and Hastings become lost.  When asking for directions they meet mischievous young Tony Lumpkin, who doesn’t identify himself, but instead sends them off to the Hardcastle house telling them that it is an inn where they might rest before continuing on their journey… And thus the chaos and comedy begins.

The cast of this play are all convincing in their roles.  The Director (Michael Hurst) and every one of the actors are critically acclaimed, award winning, highly experienced, or all of the above.  Cameron Rhodes is a thoroughly good hearted and blustering Mr Hardcastle, Ellie Smith is a larger-than-life Mrs Hardcastle, who, for some members of the audience Is clearly a highlight. 

Kate Hardcastle is played by Antonia Prebble, who captures the charming yet coy spirit of an upper class young lady (although when the upper class English lady is pretending to be lower class English girl her accent becomes a little too erratic). 

Showing their capacity for some pretty good comic delivery, Michael Whalley swaggers and shouts in his leather clad role as the young Tony Lumpkin and Arthur Meek is suitably tongue-tied and loquacious as Charles Marlowe. 

Socially adept yet secretly love-tortured George Hastings is played by Paul Ellis; Hastings spends his time trying to arrange his elopement with Miss Neville, played with sometimes over forceful flair by Esther Stevens.  Paul Barrett appears as two other characters but his performance as the servant Diggory is so hilarious that I’m still smiling.

The set (John Verryt) is lush with plants, the music is fun (Eden Mulholland) and the lighting (Jeremy Fern) is effective but not distracting.  The costumes (Elizabeth Whiting) are a little distracting, however.  The play is set in the year 1959 (instead of the 18th century), the choice of costumes fits with this time period and the variety of styles of those years were obviously fun to explore, but there is something a little confusing about so many styles on stage at once.  The choice of colours is also a little strange, particularly keeping Miss Neville in the bright yellow-gold silk dress; she very nearly outshone Miss Hardcastle in some of the later scenes.

It may be stating the obvious to remind theatre goers to suspend disbelief, but in a comedy of manners the plot and dialogue are so fast paced that the characters have to be stereotypes: We instantly understand them and can sit back and enjoy the show.  It all depends on what you want out of your theatre experience; She Stoops to Conquer is 100% pure entertainment, if you’re up for a good night out with lots of laughs, then you’ll love this one.
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