The Beaux' Strategem by George Farquhar, adapted by Glyn Dearman

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BBC Radio 7, 18 October 2009
This Restoration romp owes much of its humour to the distinction between town and country. Set in Lichfield, it describes the conflict of values between the genial innkeeper Boniface (David King) and his family, and the well-to-do London aristocrats Archer (Dale Rapley) and Aimwell (Simon Treves). Perhaps inevitably Farquhar takes the rakes' sides - for all their trickery, they possess both integrity and intelligence, rendering them ideal marriage partners. Boniface is a prisoner of his ignorance, a country bumpkin doomed to serve others. The two ingenues Cherry (Sue Broomfield) and Dorinda (Tara Dominic) are caught between two value-systems; they come from humble backgrounds, but aspire to enter the aristocracy. Being clever women, they are able to manipulate the men (both Boniface and the aristocrats) to achieve their aims.
Glyn Dearman's entertaining revival focused on the issue of language, which in the protagonists' hands functioned as a means of obfuscation rather than communication. As is customary in Restoration comedy, there was a considerable amount of role-playing: Archer became a servant, Lady Bountiful (Margaret Courtenay) became a quack doctor, while Froignard (John Moffatt) essayed a ludicrous French accent in a futile attempt to concile his Irish origins. No one - least of all the two rakes - had sufficient presence of mind to tell the truth about themselves, until the entrance of Sir Charles Freeman (Donald Gee), a deus ex machina figure with prior acquaintance of Archer and Aimwell. Although the play's manipulation of language is entertaining, it simultaneously shows how the characters are reluctant to commit themselves in a fiercely competitive world dedicated to the survival of the fittest. Everyone tries to prove themselves intellectually, even if it means embracing falsehood rather than truth.
The same rule also applied to the characters' conception of identity. Derman showed how the protagonists shifted roles at will: Scrub (Geoffrey Whitehead) played at least seven different parts, depending on the requirements of the situation. While this was something to be admired - particularly in a comedy like The Beaux' Strategem, whose plot seems inordinately complicated - it nonetheless revealed a certain instability on the characters' part; no one (least of all the listeners) knew who they 'really' were. Perhaps they are just protean figures, indulging in trickery for its own sake, so as to emerge triumphant over their rivals.