21 September 2005 WOS Rating: At first sight the decision of Northern Broadsides to stage seems perverse. It makes sense for a company committed to Northern speech patterns to choose Shakespearean or Ancient Greek drama that can be made to belong to any (or no) particular time and place, but a comedy of specifically metropolitan manners is a different matter. The answer is that it works triumphantly, but at the expense of a periodic coarsening of Sheridan’s satire. The School for Scandal
The School for Scandal should really have been called The Rivals. The academy of malice presided over by Lady Sneerwell is important, certainly, but the plot hinges on the rivalry between the sanctimonious hypocrite Joseph Surface and his good-hearted libertine brother Charles, both for the fortune of their uncle, Sir Oliver, safely in the Indies, and for the hand of Maria, ward of Sir Peter Teazle. Sheridan’s mastery of dramatic narrative clarifies a mass of plots and sub-plots - notably the return of Sir Oliver in various disguises - and the quarrels, near-separation and final reconciliation of old Sir Peter and his young and extravagant wife.
Barrie Rutter’s direction the Northern Broadsides’ production is pacy, strongly characterised and unfailingly funny. However, at times it is also over-played and over-loud. Despite engaging performances from Sue McCormick (Mrs Candour) and Andrew Whitehead (Crabtree), the scandal-mongering scenes are the least successful. The litmus test for audience reaction is the response to Sally Carman as Lady Teazle. I was poised between delight in a brilliantly executed comic performance and irritation at some of the means of achieving it: the squeaky/creaky voice, the face-pulling and the clippity-clop gait. Oddly enough Barrie Rutter himself takes Sir Peter at a fairly stately pace for much of the night.
Richard Standing’s thoroughly convincing hypocrite and Simon Holland Roberts’ vigorous and insouciant libertine are a well-matched pair of brothers who get their laughs without recourse to excess. But best of all is Mike Burns as Sir Oliver, a performance which, in its mixture of patent sincerity and irreverent fun, of pop-eyed fury and benign delight, lies at the heart of the production.
Conrad Nelson’s music, a deft combination of 18th century pastiche and silent film scores, gains enormously from the versatility of a cast of competent instrumentalists. Jessica Worrall’s witty costumes, clearly inspired by Phiz’s Dickens illustrations some 50 years after Sheridan, teeter on the brink of self-parody, but the final tableau, of the cast/band lined up behind the reconciled Teazles, looks stylish indeed.
- Ron Simpson (reviewed at at the Viaduct Theatre, Halifax).
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