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Theatre Review Reputation murderers

GORDON PARSONS relishes a fast moving production of Sheridan’s comic masterpiece

The School for Scandal
The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon

 

RECOGNISED as an actors’ play, Richard Sheridan’s 18th-century satire on contemporary manners has long been long recognised as a comic masterpiece. 

The playwright would assuredly have been delighted with Tinuke Craig’s new production. Along with her Set and Costume Designer, Alex Lowde, she has created an essentially modern treatment which never forgets that it celebrates its own time while constantly nudging its audience to recognise itself.

From the opening moment when the club of reputation murderers rise from a trap door underneath the empty stage, looking like characters from a Pollock’s toy theatre, the audience do not need the interval explanation from Tadeo Martinez, aptly named Snake, that although these people are artificial creations they can readily be found in the real world outside the theatre.

In keeping with the period theatre tradition, the Prologue and Epilogues have here been rewritten to further emphasise the play’s resonance to our own age of manipulative intrigue and deceit.

Sheridan and the cast always keep the audience informed of the mechanics of the play. Even an aside to a Shakespeare quote confides the play and act from which it is taken.

The plot involves the two Surface brothers. Joseph (Stefan Adegbola) who conceals his roguery behind a facade of histrionic moral sentiment, and Charles (John Leader) openly enjoying a life of good-natured profligate dissolution. The former is in pursuit of Maria (Yasemin Ozdemir) with an eye to fortune. She in turn is in love with the latter. This is entangled with a conventional sub-plot, when the elderly bachelor Sir Peter Teazle (Geoffrey Streatfield) finds his young flighty wife (Tara Tijani) a headache. 

Surround these with characters with a bevy of characters including Lady Sneerwell, Mrs Candour, Sir Benjamin Backbite, etc, all playing up to their names, and you have the makings of a gaily malicious romp.

There are the necessary rabbits out of hats when Sir Olive, (Wil Johnson), the brothers’ jolly uncle, returns from years making a fortune in the Indies to expose their true natures with the help of useful disguises.   

If some of the play’s sharp witty exchanges are lost in the riot of colourful, extravagant costumes then audiences will be pleased with a fast moving, at times almost balletic Pierrot show.

Runs until September 6. Box Office 01789 331 111, rsc.org.uk

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