Classics & RepertoireDate: 15 September 2010
"Amidst the mortifying circumstances upon growing old," said Charles Lamb, "it is something to have seen The School for Scandal in all its glory."
In his review of The Rivals yesterday, Michael Billington urged Peter Hall to turn his attention to Sheridan's second great comedy, but now I see Deborah Warner will take up the challenge next year in the Barbican.
Even in the early 19th century, when Lamb wrote his essay on artifical comedy, he lamented the fact that such comedy, or the comedy of manners, was extinct, and that "the times cannot bear them."
Matching modern expectation with the demands of Sheridan's high-flown verbal dexterity and genius will be a great challenge for Deborah Warner.
I've only ever been disappointed in the play on the stage; but then I never saw John Gielgud's famous 1962 production at the Haymarket starring Margaret Rutherford, Ralph Richardson, John Neville and Anna Massey.
It's interesting nowadays that so many small fringe venues are acting increasingly as a safety net for plays falling out of the repertoire.
It is entirely possible, I suppose, that Deborah saw the recent Southwark revival of The Rivals, with Celia Imrie as Mrs Malaprop, and woke up to the fact that his other great play warranted a fullscale revival.
But isn't it both marvellous, and somehow a bit depressing, that the fringe is becoming a lively museum? There's Pinero at the Orange Tree, Graham Greene's The Potting Shed at the Finborough, an Edward Bond season at the Cock Tavern, nonagenarian N F Simpson at Jermyn Street, Peter Gill's first plays coming at the Riverside, Willy Russell recently at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Noel Coward at Pentameters.
There is still plenty of room for new names and plays, of course, but I think the grey pound is making a big difference here. Matinee audiences at the Orange Tree, for instance, are mostly pensioners. The plays are attractive to them and the ticket price is right. Personally, I love going to Orange Tree matinees; they make me feel so young.
But they don't provide that bracing sense of excitement you get from seeing a brand new play on a big stage for the first time, and J T Rogers's David Hare-like Blood and Gifts at the Lyttelton was a very good example of that last night.
A brief post-script to the haunting Young Vic revival of Galt MacDermot's The Human Comedy: only a musical illiterate could fail to appreciate the fact that, like Andrew Lloyd Webber, MacDermot writes proper music, music with shape and feeling and full attention to both the architecture and the detail of a musical number. Nothing is perfect about the show, but it's easily the best "new" score on the London stage outside of Love Never Dies.