by Richard Brinsley Sheridan.

Theatre Royal Sawclose BA1 1ET To 28 July 2012.
Mon-Wed 7.30pm; Thu-Sat 8pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 18 July 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.

TICKETS: 01225 448844.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 13 July.

Enjoyably scandalous, from its gossip to its wigs.
Summer comes to Bath without The Peter Hall Season, but still with a classy trio of productions. First, there’s this modernised School for Scandal. Costumes stay 18th-century, as do furniture and décor, while the fantasticated wigs have their roots in the elaborated hairdos of the day.

But director Jamie Lloyd seems to have decided that a long play, even a comedy, on a hot evening (how was he to have known?), with actors strolling through Sheridan’s intricate sentences wouldn’t do. So he’s gone for speedy delivery.

The effect is virtuosic, lines zinging past as the action flies along. The pace can trip up some, but there’s the sense of a breathless, scandalmongering côterie society. Yet, at worst, it can seem like a rehearsal run-through, with little sense of any character response beyond the most basic being signalled.

Edward Bennett’s hypocritical Surface brother, Joseph, is restrained from open displays of sensibility till near the end, by when (possibly reflecting his tour with Frantic Assembly during the last year) he’s also started leaping around the stage as his plans come unstuck. The leaping can seem contrived but it’s part of a lively, unfussy portrayal that’s as subtly spoken as the pace allows, and successfully comic. And by keeping his sententiousness till the end, the hand-on-heart hypocrisy becomes comically climactic after all the glacial callousness and quick-witted lies, rather than a stale and over-used device.

As his virtuous libertine of a brother, Charles, Nigel Harman has an independent goodwill, suggesting he’s a distant ancestor of Alan Ayckbourn’s conquering Norman.

Though the production misses some of the dark shading behind the surface gleam of society – captured in Soutra Gilmour’s set, bright white but without luxurious adornments, its side panels left open to suggest lives aren’t as private as people might like – there’s sterling work particularly from Maggie Steed’s full-flavour Mrs Candour, Serena Evans as an embittered Lady Sneerwell and David Killick’s Crabtree, while Susannah Fielding’s Lady Teazle is an innocent abroad, especially at the height of the screen scene, where Lloyd creates a tableau which would have prompted Hogarth to an immediate engraving.

Lady Sneerwell: Serena Evans.
Snake: Stuart Ellis.
Joseph Surface: Edward Bennett.
Maria: Zoe Rainey.
Mrs Candour: Maggie Steed.
Crabtree: David Killick.
Sir Benjamin Backbite: Grant Gillespie.
Lady Teazle: Susannah Fielding.
Sir Peter Teazle: James Laurenson.
Rowley: John Conroy.
Sir Oliver Surface: Ian McNeice.
Moses: Timothy Speyer.
Trip/William: Matthew Seadon-Young.
Charles Surface: Nigel Harman.
Careless: Greg Barnett.

Director: Jamie Lloyd.
Designer: Soutra Gilmour.
Lighting: Neil Austin.
Sound/Music: Ben & Max Ringham.
Wigs/Hair: Richard Mawbey.
Etiquette consultant: Sue Lefton.
Assistant director: Edward Stambollouian.

2012-07-16 11:42:11

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