After four days of seeing deep, moving and affecting theatre, I was delighted to be going to see George Farquhar’s The Beaux’ Stratagem on August 3rd. I studied Restoration theatre many times during my University career, so it was so exciting for me to have the opportunity to see something I’d studied but never seen before on my favourite stage.
Overall, I just felt like this play was a bundle of fun! It doesn’t totally come across on the page just how funny this play is, however once it is embodied, the audience can barely stop laughing! It was a wonderful example of a typical Restoration comedy, very funny, with just the right amount of naughtiness to it. The humour is totally transcendent, making us laugh just as hard today as it would have for Charles II’s audience. You really need to experience it for yourself, it’s totally worth it!
The sets and costumes are opulent and beautiful: a perfect match to the overflow of laughter in this play. It was amazing to watch the actors change the set from the dingy Inn to the beautiful house where Lady Bountiful and her children live. The contrast between the male, public space of the Inn (whose only female component is Cherry, whose father owns the Inn) and the female, private space (which is eventually invaded by males) of the parlour is very stark, but it accurately reflects Restoration society. I always love looking at the men’s clothes, Archer and Aimwell, as upper class men, were dressed so beautifully and of course the women’s dresses were downright gorgeous.
As usual the acting in this play did not disappoint. This play was well stocked with some of Stratford’s best actors and they were marvellous. They made me laugh, love, feel pity and happiness. The whole ensemble was wonderful, however Lucy Peacock, Colm Feore, Gordon S. Miller and Martha Henry stick out in my mind as being particularly fabulous. Evan Buluing’s French accent as Count Bellair nearly put everyone on the floor from laughing! I was honestly very impressed by everyone in this play, and it was cast so well, and really brought these characters to life in such a way that I felt so fortunate I was able to witness it.
I’m going to get into a little bit of analysis, so there might be some spoilers, therefore read on if you dare!
In and amongst this beautifully funny play, Farquhar discusses some very serious issues. The primary issue he deals with is companionate marriage. Squire and Mrs. Sullen are so called because they are unhappy in their marriage, and it comes to light later on in the play that their marriage was arranged rather than chosen. When Mrs. Sullen meets Archer, she finds her ideal man. Similarly, Dorrinda meets Aimwell, and thinks she has found her ideal man, even though she doesn’t know that he and Archer are not as well off as they would appear. These displays of true love eventually cause the Sullens to get a divorce, and Mrs. Sullen to be free to be courted by Archer. This would have been a hot topic amongst Farquhar’s audience as companionate marriage still wasn’t a widely accepted norm, however was starting to become popular. This of course comes with the notion of adultery, and the choices that Mrs. Sullen is forced to make when confronted with the opportunity to have true love. Several of her monologues talk about her sad marriage, and her desire for love, and once she meets Archer, they turn to thoughts of desire and what it would mean to leave her husband. However, she never breaks her marriage vows, and so while forced marriage is shown to be a negative thing, adultery is shown to not be the answer. It is amazing how many modern notions are coming from an 18th century play.
Then of course there are Archer and Aimwell themselves. Both of the men are not well off, but pose as a wealthy man and his valet to hopefully win themselves a wife. They’re almost like fops because they don’t have real professions and spend most of their time around women, and yet they aren’t given the same idiocy that someone like Sparkish in The Country Wife, from the same period. Yet it calls into question just how much these men are allowed to get away with and how much of a façade can they employ while still having the trust of the women they wish to woo.
If you wish to take in this fantastic piece of theatre, here’s the link for tickets: http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/OnStage/productions.aspx?id=24275&prodid=52396