I reimagined and reinvigorated this Restoration classic for East15's BA Acting and Stage Combat program, capitalising on the actors’ unique physical training. This updated version of Farquhar’s comedy about two London rakes who run away to the country to escape debts dew parallels between Britain’s current socio-economic concerns and Restoration society.
Using only their wits, Aimwell and Archer contrive a "beautiful strategy" to exploit the class system that raised and then rejected them: by playing a master and servant they intend to trick wealthy, aristocratic women into marriages of convenience.
The Beaux' Stratagem articulates a modern view that social distinctions, including class and gender, are performative constructions rather than predetermined categories. The intersection in the play between class and gender vividly illustrates how characters---in particular female characters---employ socially constructed identities to survive a web of societal expectations and normative institutions in place to preserve social inequality. This experience reaches a tragic climax when, after an impossibly bizarre series of events that disrupts our expectation for a happy comedy ending, Mrs Sullen is freed from her unhappy aristocratic marriage only to discover that she continues to be under the control of another man: her brother.
The production's design allowed actors to create expressionistically physical responses to Farquhar's ornate dialogue by climbing, jumping and throwing themselves down walls, thrilling audiences with gymnastic physical comedy. Drawing inspiration from Greyson Perry's The Vanity of Small Differences (a 21st Century reworking of Hogarth's social commentary masterpiece A Rake's Progress) I satirised today's semiotics of class and gender to enhance the urgency of Farquhar's comedy of manners. This was especially true for the first half of the production, which was tonally reminiscent of Pedro Almodóvar’s films with their own interest in gender performance. By changing Restoration-era details to contemporary equivalents, for example changing snuff to cocaine, my production spoke with immediacy about the props and postures strategically used in the performance of class and gender.
In the play's final act, as Mrs Sullen's personal predicament escalates in parallel with a disintegration of the narrative's internal logic, the production's tone became more absurd and the acting style more theatrically self-aware. Outwardly manifesting Mrs Sullen’s unnerved experience, the final scene transformed the stage into a horrific Las Vegas wedding chapel, washed in a golden other-worldly light, and the male characters metamorphosed into participants on a game show battling to win Mrs Sullen's marriage contract. This competition was underscored by a terrifying a capella version of The Beatles' Can't Buy Me Love, which was sung live onstage by the play's aristocratic characters.
The Beaux' Stratagem
By George Farquhar
Clifftown Theatre (December 2015)
Set: Carlos Moral Reis
Costumes: Natalie Jackson
Lighting: Steven Owens
Composer: Tom Bauling
Poster Design: Jessica Mason