The Beaux’ Stratagem at the National
Written by George Farquhar and originally performed in 1707, The Beaux’ Stratagem is as comical today as was intended for its earliest audience. This particular revival, directed by Simon Godwin, opens by candlelight atmospherically lighting the scene, the audience awed from the off by the ingenuity of design and authenticity of the set. A solo violinist begins her haunting melody, before the band and voices of the actors commence in this quintessentially period setting.
The set depicts both a noble house, adorned with gold-framed paintings and chandeliers, and a traditional old English pub, switching between them; the costumes worn are aesthetically wondrous, relaying each character perfectly. Every actor performs with the utmost believability and conviction, successfully drawing the audience into the world of the play – the story of two young men, Bagshot and Aimwell (Esh Alladi and Samuel Barnett), debt-ridden and desperate to find love. It’s incredible how, even though Farquhar’s writing was guided by the preoccupations of 18th century society, it’s still wholly applicable to a modern audience. The plot follows the actions of characters of varying means and class, revealing how they all ultimately aspire for the same things: money, love and, above all, a higher rank in society. On top of these themes, the script oozes with sexual innuendo, keeping the audience roaring with laughter at the audacity of what one expects to be a more reserved time.
Music by Michael Bruce plays an important role throughout; instrumentals are played between set changes while songs randomly and humorously interject the action, amusing and entertaining. The band, dressed for the time period, are seated in a gallery above and to the left of the stage. This visible positioning is indicative of the set up of dances held in the 18th century; the style of Bruce’s compositions, likewise, are reminiscent of traditional folk songs, assisting the visuals of the stage design in transporting the audience back in time.
A dramatically exciting fight scene draws things to a close, thrilling the audience. As of old, a country jig has everyone itching to join in the dance, before they wander off into the night. Funny, visually astounding and ever relatable, The Beaux’ Stratagem is not to be missed.
Photo: Manuel Harlan
The Beaux’ Stratagem is at the National Theatre until 20th September 2015, for further information or to book visit here.