CDs – School for Scandal, Importance of Being Earnest, 18th Century Comedy Album

CD

Archive Recordings from Classics for Pleasure of
The School for Scandal: Richard Brinsley Sheridan
The Importance of Being Earnest: Oscar Wilde
And 18th Century Album: Way of the World, Congreve; Beaux’ Stratagem, Farquhar; School for Scandal, Sheridan
Review: Rod Dungate

Style v Meaning – the struggle for supremacy is worked through

Earlier on this site I reviewed the Classics for Pleasure CDs of The Caretaker, The Entertainer and Murder in the Cathedral. At the same time, CfP issued CDs of The Importance of Being Earnest, The School for Scandal and extracts called An 18th Century Comedy Album. All three of these latter CDs feature Edith Evans.

English 18th Century plays are among the hardest plays in our cannon to bring off. There’s a delicate balance to be drawn between style and meaning. The language is frequently beautifully poised – sentences balanced like see-saws. Yet the meaning of often barbed, or requires skilled comedy playing to make the line work. Although characters stand or sit around talking, maliciously bad-mouthing their closest friends, narrative drive mustn’t be sacrificed.

The School for Scandal is a great achievement. It moves along with pace yet the lines are spoken easefully and with complete clarity. The women really own this play; Edith Evans is fabulously on form as Lady Sneerwell, ably accompanied by Claire Bloom’s delightful Lady Teazel. It’s easy to understand Sir Peter Teazel’s confused relationship with his wife; nicely brought out by Cecil Parker.

Well worth hearing on this recording is Michael Gough’s smoothly vicious Snake.

Edith Evans is truly hilarious in the extract from The Rivals (on the 18th Century Album CD). It’s Act III, a duologue between Mrs M and Captain Absolute. Evans creates a devastating truth within Mrs Malaprop that releases the comedy in a thrilling deluge. She is also fabulously funny as Mrs Sullen in an extract from Beaux’ Stratagem. (With, in addition, an hilarious cameo from Miles Malleson as the servant Scrub.)

She is less successful as Millamant (Way of the World); I’m sorry to say this, but she is too old to be playing it – and that really gets in the way. The situation is not helped by John Gielgud’s performance as Mirabell; he fails to convince at any level.

John Gielgud also plays John Worthing in the Earnest recording. His performance fails for the same reason as his Mirabell – it never sounds as if anything is going on behind the words. That’s to say, meaning falls victim to style.

This recording is the weakest of the full six. The production is slow to the point of being plodding. Comment is made about the musicality of the way lines are spoken; lines of dialogue are not lines of music – without meaning they are empty vessels making pointless noise.

Having said that, Edith Evan’s is Lady Bracknell and our world would be a sadder place without that performance.

Casts then links follow:

School for Scandal
Sir Peter Teazle: Cecil Parker
Sir Oliver Surface: Baliol Holloway
Joseph Surface: Harry Andrews
Charles Surface: Alec Clunes
Lady Teazle: Claire Bloom
Lady Sneerwell: Edith Evans
Mrs Candour: Athene Seyler
Crabtree: George Howe
Sir Benjamin Backbiter: William Squire
Sir Harry Bumper: William Squire
Maria: Anne Leon
Careless: William Squire
Moses: George Howe
Rowley: Peter Williams
William: Peter Williams
Trip: Peter Halliday
Snake: Michael Gough

Importance of Being Earnest
John Worthing: John Gielgud
Algernon Moncrieff: Roland Culver
Lady Bracknell: Edith Evans
Gwendolen Fairfax: Pamela Brown
Cecily Cardew: Jean Cadell
Canon Chasuble: Aubrey Mather
Merriman: Brewster Mason
Lane: Peter Sallis

18th Century Comedy
Mrs Millamant: Edith Evans
Mirabell: John Gielgud
Mrs Marwood: Pauline Jameson
Mrs Fainall: Jane Wenham
Foible: Jessie Evans
Sir Wilfull Witwoud: Peter Williams
Peg: Maureen Quinney

Mrs Sullen: Edith Evans
Squire Sullen: Ralph Truman
Dorinda: Pauline Jameson
Scrub: Miles Malleson

Mrs Malaprop: Edith Evans
Captain Absolute: Anthony Quayle

Lady Teazle: Edith Evans

If you would like to buy these CDs directly from Amazon, here are the links.

School for Scandal

Importance of Being Earnest

18th Century Comedy Album

2006-12-23 15:31:34

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