Everyone loves a good gossip. Fact. Everyone also enjoys behaving badly when they think they can get away with it. Being sneaky, underhand, paranoid and cheeky are all qualities that the characters of Sheridan’s Restoration benchmark share. Here, in Jamie Lloyd’s revival, those qualities are the driving force behind Theatre Royal Bath’s latest production.
The School for Scandal is a play of two very clearly defined halves and is probably one of the finest examples of its kind. The first half is where all of the seeds are planted and all the traps are set. Lady Sneerwell plots with Snake to break up Charles Surface and Maria. Why? She wants him for herself. Sir Peter Teazle is worried about his much younger wife, the money she spends and the people she spends time with. Lady Teazle is busy spending money, flirting and counting down the days to her husband’s death and inevitable inheritance. The Surface brothers are simply behaving badly. And so it goes on. The second half simply sees all of the plots, plans and schemes unravel or reveal themselves.
Jamie Lloyd’s production brings out the highs and also underlines the lows of Sheridan’s play. The highs are there for all to see. The cast relish the opportunity to embrace their characters. As the Teazles, James Laurenson and Susannah Fielding are exceptional. Their relationship is the cornerstone of this production and each one in turn deceives, confronts, hides and plots with such gusto you can’t help but go along for the ride. The always reliable Edward Bennett equally has a ball drawing one and all (including us) into his schemes. The further down the track he goes, the more animated and jumpy he becomes and in turn the more delighted we are with his performance. Soutra Gilmour’s design is a mixed bag. The costume design is stunning. Each character appropriately decked out in the most glorious outfit that would get the vainest of heads turning. The set proves more problematic. Whilst the bottom half is befitting for a decadent lifestyle and the odd farcical moments of slamming doors, hiding and eavesdropping, the top half feels underused and tagged on. This is a shame as the main stage of the Theatre Royal is beautifully grand and deserves to be filled.
An issue with Sheridan’s play itself is the inequality of pace in the two halves. The first half often feels laboured or too lengthy as the multiple seeds are planted. The second half is a relief as it flies by with a cracking pace as all the characters see their journeys unravel. This is where the real fun is to be had.
Jamie Lloyd has taken full advantage of the era and the genre and has given us a gloriously decadent and faithfully revived production.