Review: The Beaux Stratagem (George Brown Theatre)

George Brown Theatre students bring The Beaux Stratagem to life in Toronto

I personally get a thrill whenever I have the opportunity to see live Restoration Comedy. It was the subject of one of my term papers in University and I’ve always been fascinated by the cultural importance that the style had over the citizens of England during Charles II’s reign. Getting a chance to see a production of George Farquhar’s The Beaux Stratagem was a real treat for me and I was really excited to see what the students of George Brown would bring to the material.

On paper, The Beaux Stratagem is a pretty straightforward piece of Restoration Comedy; two penniless rakes scheme to seduce rich women and get access to their money through marriage by playing an elaborate identity scam. Copious amounts of wit and repartee are thrown around, less witty characters are mocked and a good time is had by all. Under the surface, however, there’s a gleeful subversion to the whole proceedings that almost begs hapless reviewers who think they know all about the genre to make assumptions about the structure only to laugh in their face and do something completely different. It’s a side of Restoration Comedy I’d never really experienced and it was a welcome surprise.

Clever scripts can’t hold a show on their own however, and thankfully Farquhar is well served by George Brown’s class of 2015/16. I was truly impressed with the ability of the cast to work within the technically challenging text while still delivering the jokes and humour that could so easily have been lost with just a slight misstep or poor timing. I tried to resist singling any one actor out as I really can’t stress how good this cast is, but I do need to make special mention of Sean Jacklin’s Foigard; a character that simply cries out to be played as a clownish buffoon with a bad accent, that admittedly Jacklin does but in a way that felt was in service to the script and not for cheap laughs. The restraint and his comedic timing, especially at the end of the show, really made the character shine and brighten every scene he was in.

Set wise I was really impressed as well. Keeping it pretty barebones with only a table, two chairs and a divan flanking a large window and four screens (that easily allowed for characters to hide behind and eavesdrop on others) the staging allowed the action to be front and centre without being drowned by the set, while at the same time giving plenty of functionality to the things surrounding the actors.

If there’s one thing I have to criticize about the production, it’s the decision to adjust the time period of the play to turn of the 20th Century instead of its original 18th Century roots. My guest and I were unsure of the reasoning behind it and it resulted in a disconnect between the script and the setting and it slightly hurt the production.

Quibbles about setting choices aside however, The Beaux Stratagem is a fine production that exceeded my usual expectations for student theatre and everyone involved should be proud of their efforts. I strongly recommend you see this show before it wraps up, although the adult nature of much of its subject matter does suggest you keep the kids at home.

Details

  • The Beaux Stratagem is playing at the Michael Young Theatre at The Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane)
  • Performances run from April 12th-23rd 2016 (In rep with The Enchanted, see here for specific days)
  • Showtimes are at 7:30 pm, with a matinee at 1:30 pm on Saturday the 23rd.
  • Tickets are $20, $15 for Seniors and $8 for Students
  • Tickets can be purchased online or in person
  • Watch a trailer for the show here.

Photo of Christopher Fulton and Julia Vescio provided by the company

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