School for Scandal


**** The Telegraph

The Park Theatre is a barely six weeks old. It is a brave business, launching a new venue, but if the standard of this School for Scandal is maintained then the Park should have a bright future.

Director Jessica Swale has previous experience with Sheridan – her 2010 production of The Rivals was very well-received – and this shows in the certainty of her touch. She pulls off the essential thing, establishing a tone that the entire company understands. There is a fidelity to the original, a delighted playing of Sheridan’s mannered but muscular language, but at the same time an air of freedom that allows all sorts of modern allusions to emerge. This is best expressed in the sharp little musical interludes, cleverly conceived by Laura Forrest-Hay, in which the company prance and tease as they sing about the evil joys of gossip. Thoughts of Twitter hover, faintly queasily.

The play is performed in the larger of the two spaces at the Park, but is still intimate, and Simon Kenny’s effective set comprises little more than three tall caskets at the back of the stage. These can become mirrors, windows, or at one point – when members of the cast pose inside them – the family portraits sold by the rakish Charles Surface (Harry Kerr). The visual wit of this idea is typical of the production.

Otherwise, the staging is plain, with Fi Russell’s delicious costumes forming a set of their own and giving a painterly aspect to the scandal-mongering scenes in Lady Sneerwell’s drawing-room. As the Lady, Belinda Lang has the extreme elegance of a Reynolds, and plays the role with a restrained, dark glint worthy of Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

Conversely, some of the acting is overwhelmed by its own exuberance, but at least it is never boring.

Despite the interpolations, however, what is most impressive about the production is its confidence that Sheridan’s funny, silly, truthful play can hold the attention on its own. Most of the time, the actors simply speak, and this creates its own atmosphere. As Charles’s hypocritical brother Joseph – rival for the hand of Jessica Clark’s rich and delectable Maria – Tom Berish gives a notable performance. So too does Buffy Davis as the atrocious Mrs Candour, who practically hyperventilates at the prospect of a new nugget of gossip, while Kirsty Besterman’s Lady Teazle, dancing with glee at having married money, puts one hilariously in mind of an eighteenth-century footballer’s wife.

Sheridan's most popular comedy revived in a sparkling period production. The London gossip scene is buzzing. Masquerading behind the veneer of polite society, malicious prattlers trade gossip like gamblers and ruin reputations for sport. In The School for Scandal one thing is certain- no-one is safe.

Directed by Jessica Swale

Venue

Park Theatre

Cast

Belinda Lang
Buffy Davis
Rachel Atkins
Kirsty Besterman
Russell Bentley
Tom Berish
Michael Bryher
Jessica Clark
Daniel Gosling
Harry Kerr
Timothy Speyer
Charlie Tighe