Sheridan meets Brecht: when legends collide

School for Scandal – Barbican Theatre, 14 June 2011

There isn’t much left to write about the Deborah Warner directed School for Scandal currently playing at the Barbican. An award-winning director who was most recently seen at the National with a stellar production of Mother Courage and Her Children, Warner’s original take on Sheridan’s 18th century classic became the rather surprising subject of unusually intense critical debate, before descending into a rather indecorous war of words between Warner and the theatre critics, Michael Billington and Charles Spencer.

The production demonstrates fairly conclusively that Sheridan’s restoration comedy continues to withstand the test of time. A sparklingly witty acidic comedy, the dense wordplay maybe be occasionally hard to follow for modern audiences but taking the time to really listen is more than worthwhile, with a script packed with lines biting enough to make you think of an 18th century Thick of It. The cast do fine work with the material. Alan Howard as Sir Peter Teazle is first rate, finding the perfect blend of genuine compassion mixed with the kind of grumpiness evident in older men who find themselves in a fractious relationship with a younger wife. It is interesting to watch Howard and remember back to a time in the 1970’s when he was one of the coming men of the stage, running through the repertoire of romantic leads for the RSC. Matilda Ziegler’s Lady Sneerwell and Vicki Pepperdine as the irrepressible Mrs Candour are both excellent and wring the maximum amount of humour out of two of the funniest roles in the play.

Leo Bill, playing Charles Surface as a trustifarian with a, very deeply hidden, moral centre, is entirely convincing. A bundle of nervous energy, constantly on the move, Bill injects some much needed pace into a play that, while constantly zipping along and never feeling flabby, is still a three hour haul.

However fans of Sheridan maybe scratching their heads at the description of Charles Surface as a trustifarian and this is where problems in the production begin to arise. The criticisms of Warner’s production have focused on the modern flourishes that have been brought to the play and a certain irritation that parallels with society today were being, in some cases literally, clearly signposted for the audience. Continue reading here

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