The play itself was well worth it, but we had to ignore all the hoo-ha with which the production saw fit to surround Sheridan. The general point seemed to be that gossip is still arouind today .... well, DER ! It would have been so much better if this excellent cast [Alan Howard, John Shrapnel, John McEnery et al] had just done it straight. - J Evans
16 Jun 11
Despite its' tediously noisy setpieces, and irritating onstage shenanigans (which make it seem a very middle-aged idea of yoof culture - 1980's pop, 'The Young Ones' anyone?)the play rattles along at an enjoyable gallop, and the actors do a magnificent job. Worth seeing, if you can see beyong the Emperor's new clothes. - Lostmarples
03 Jun 11
This is a truly abysmal production, and rates as one of the worst things I've ever seen on stage. The performances - from good actors mind - are all over the place, they seem to be in different plays, and the whole design concept is ghastly. Worst of all, rather than elucidating the play, the plot is almost impossible to follow amidst the noise, mispronounced lines and actors who stumbled over their words. It takes a remarkable director to make the usually-fabulous Katherine Parkinson give a bad performance.
The only ray of light is the chance to see Alan Howard on stage again - long may he continue.
I've never seen the Barbican so empty, and it only got emptier after the interval. There was barely a ripple of applause at the interval.
It's 3 1/2 hours of your life you will not get back. I would give it no stars if I had the chance! - dgr1
26 May 11
I wasted three and a half hours of my life on this catastrophe of a production waiting to laugh. I smiled twice - both times at Vicki Pepperdine's Mrs Candour. But this isn't a comedy - it's an endurance test. The reason is that the director doesn't trust the play. Instead of Lady Teazle coyly wondering whether to flirt with Surface, she has sex on a table. She's the worst of the lot! So why would we laugh when we just think she is a lucky cow to get away with it? What a misconceived disaster! - Peter Graystone
23 May 11
The last time I saw this restoration comedy was at the Edinburgh fringe a few years back by a company of stand-ups. It was like a panto and the chief pleasures were Lionel Blair hamming it up mercilessly and Stephen K Amos in a powdered wig – and it all came in at 90 minutes. Deborah Warner’s new production at the Barbican comes in at 3 hours 15 minutes and there isn’t a powdered wig in sight.
Fifteen minutes before curtain-up (not included in the running time above!), you can hear the rave music in the foyer; you’d be wise to go in at this point for a sort of fashion catwalk show in various types of dress and states of undress, with added cardboard signs. What follows is a particularly well spoken show in period costume (well, in a Vivienne Westwood sort of way) and period settings (well, cardboard cut-out with backstage and wings in view) from designer Jeremy Herbert, with a whole host of anachronistic contemporary references like burgers and coke – both types! – blackberries (the electronic variety), shopping bags from designer shops, video projections, flashing lights, binge drinking and rave music. It’s sort of Sheridan on acid. Oh and there’s a tricorn hat that appears to have grown a lawn!
The story revolves around which of the Surface brothers Uncle Oliver will choose as his heir. He visits them in disguise, obviously, to help him determine who is the most deserving. Then there’s the question of the fidelity of Sir Peter’s new young bride, a husband for Sir Peter’s new ward Maria and the activities of the scandalmongers of the title. As always with restoration comedy we get delicious character names – this one also has Lady Sneerwell, Sir Benjamin Backbite and Careless.
Warner has assembled an outstanding cast, in which Leo Bill shines as Charles Surface. The more experienced actors fare best – John Shrapnel as Uncle (Sir) Oliver, John McEnery as Rowley and Alan Howard no less as Sir Peter Teazle. I particularly liked Vicki Pepperdine’s turn as chief scandalmonger Mrs Candour and Gary Sefton provides some excellent physical comedy playing drunk.
It was meant to shock c.235 years ago, so it seems to me legitimate to attempt to make it shocking today. Warner hasn’t done any damage, though she hasn’t added that much value – except to provide parallels with today’s equally decadent, gossip obsessed society. Having said that, there is a freshness about it (seeing a restoration comedy is often like visiting a museum) which I admired and it doesn’t feel like 3 hours 15 minutes. However, for a comedy, there weren’t really enough laughs. - Gareth James
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