THE SCHOOL FOR WIVES
by Molière translated and adapted by Neil Bartlett.
White Bear Theatre 138 Kennington Park Road SE11 4DJ To 23 March 2013.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Sun 6pm.
Runs 1hr 55min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 8700 887 (booking fee)..
Review: Timothy Ramsden 15 March.
A satisfactory School.
The joke’s on Arnold, for being theatre’s common laughing-stock, the older man in love with a younger woman; one who imagines that by taking a young girl bred in sheltered surroundings he can counteract youthful instincts and the influence of the town.
Yet, by another staple of dramatic contrivance, for much of the time he seems in control, owing to the most leaky of leaks – young Agnes has a lover Horace (Neil Bartlett’s updated verse version keeps the English forms of French names). Horace knows an older man is keeping his lover prisoner but, not knowing who that man is, confides all his plans to Arnold.
Horace then wonders why every trick to rescue Agnes fails; when he finally gets his girl he immediately hands her to Arnold’s care for the night. Nature wouldn’t necessarily win out in a hierarchical society, but Molière doesn’t leave dénouement to chance, setting things right instead with one of those final scene surprise revelations that have also featured throughout comic history.
Jenny Eastop’s Mercurius Theatre revival at the White Bear has Tom Barratt as an Arnold on the young side, but fusty-looking in brown suit and severe spectacles. His manner, sharp as his specs, whether worry or anger is dominant, could do with more vocal variety: he’s clear and direct but becomes predictable.
Eastop exploits the White Bear’s intimacy as characters fling questions and opinions at audience members (no answers required). The simple wall-with-door setting is functional, and the two servants (an awkward import into an essentially suburban modern setting) are well-defined, Eliot Hardy’s bemused but obedient Alan contrasting Beth Eyre’s tall, self-defence trained Georgette, equally compliant to orders. Yet their physical comedy doesn’t spring into life, and the argument between them is limited.
Alexandra Ryall’s sweetly innocent Agnes comes to life when Arnold and Horace literally tug her both ways. Stephen Good registers the sense of Arnold’s friend and tries perhaps too hard to give a distinct identity to the briefly-seen Henry in a revival that, if it doesn’t give Molière’s comedy renewed sparkle, presents it pleasantly enough and makes the play’s point.
Arnold: Tom Barratt.
Chrysalde/Henry: Stephen Good.
Georgette: Beth Eyre.
Alan/Oronte: Elliot Hardy.
Agnes: Alexandra Ryall.
Horace: Jonathon Reid.
Director: Jenny Eastop.
Lighting: Helen Williams.