You search in vain for a classic comedy on the Fringe and when you find one it’s packed full of mediocre comics engaged in more crimes of mugging than on a Friday night in Glasgow. But at least there is more of Sheridan’s great play left intact than I dared hope – its five acts squashed into 90 minutes – and it’s beautifully designed by Sue Mayes with stripey costumes, big wigs and one-dimensional scenery of engravings and furniture. Despite the presence of a game Lionel Blair, acting with commendable restraint as Sir Peter Teazle, and pert little former Daily Mail hack Bridget Christie as his kittenish wife, sucked in by the gossips, Cal McCrystal’s inane and indulgent production only makes you long for a decent revival some time soon at the National Theatre.
Stand-up fans might be keen to see how Phil Nichol tramples all over the sly complexity of the hypocritical Joseph Surface, or how Stephen K Amos turns Sir Benjamin Backbite into an unfunny dullard.
But arrest warrants for hopelessly improper acting should also be issued to Marcus Brigstocke as a totally anonymous Charles Surface, the awful Miss Behave (swallowing more lines than her usual swords) as Lady Sneerwell and Ella Kenion as a Mrs Candour whose idea of witty bitchiness is to mime fellatio at the front row.
Even worse is Paul Foot as Crabtree humping the crippled servant and having the brass neck to say that he’s trying to do acting. You said it, mate. And you can’t do it. Stick to the night job.
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