The Beaux’ Stratagem (National Theatre)

This farcical Restoration comedy by George Farquhar is given new breath and life in Simon Godwin’s production from the Olivier Theatre at the National, with vibrant music by Michael Bruce and stomping yet laconic dances from principal cast members.

Mr Aimwell and Mr Archer are dissolute beaux seeking to meet ladies of fortune with intentions of marriage for money; with this plan in mind they alight at Boniface’s inn where they plot for Aimwell (under the borrowed guise of his brother’s title and fortune) to court the unmarried daughter of Lady Bountiful.

In the meantime Archer flirts with the innkeeper’s daughter, Cherry, and also the unhappily married Mrs Sullen, whose husband is a miserable drunk and libertine.  In this second endeavour he is assisted by the wonderfully emotionless and dry servant to the Bountiful household, Scrub, who welcomes him as a brother in bondage.

No big names clog this ensemble cast, but Samuel Barnett and Geoffrey Streatfeild are good as the beaux (especially Streatfeild, who is cajoled to sing and dance), Pearce Quigley is quite marvellous as Scrub (a wet rag with the last drop wrung from him), and Susannah Fielding effortlessly engages the interest and sympathy of the audience in the injustice of her miserable marriage.  Pippa Bennett-Warner is a dreamer as Dorinda, still expecting true love (with a title, place and position), and Jane Booker is amusing enough as the Lady Dowager who fancies herself a healer.