Within the first five minutes of Deborah Warner’s production of The School for Scandal my friend and I had exchanged approximately four shared glances. They were those sorts of half eye-rolls that essentially shout across the silence: “Perhaps we could sneak out in the interval?”

But let me stop you right there. We did not scurry out, heads hung in shame at our commitment issues. The School for Scandal completely overturned my initial judgement. This was, in fact, a wholly enjoyable production that fully recovered from a woefully weak opening scene.

In said opening scene two characters cast off denim jeans and casual tops and are laced and buckled into period costume. This boob-tube to bustles approach to costume change made for a confusing visual. Who are these people? Where are these people? Why is he wearing superman underpants? I wasn’t sure. The peppery dialogue was much too quietly spoken and unconvincingly delivered. Characters snorting up lines of coke while swigging back on fizzy wine felt like a cheap attempt to place this production firmly in the parameters of “cool”. (More on the “cool” issue later.)

Yet I reiterate, despite my initial despondency and straining eardrums, all was swiftly resolved.

Think a posh episode of Wife Swap, rewound to about 300 years ago.

The School for Scandal was written in 1777 and is a warts and all exposé of Georgian society. The script is simply brilliant. Think love, affairs, sex, shopping and gossip. Think a posh episode of Wife Swap, rewound to about 300 years ago.

In this production Leo Bill plays reckless party-boy heir Charles Surface like a strung-out, dippy-hippy, junkie. His comic timing pulls off well and makes for the most memorable performance. His on-stage brother Joseph (Aidan McArdle) is suitably sleazy and sly, if a little stiff. Shallow shop-aholic Lady Teazle (Katherine Parkinson) is accurately annoying. Alan Howard plays Sir Peter as her believably begrudging husband. The latent affection that exists between the Teazle husband and wife duo is captured wonderfully. Although Lady Teazle taunts that she is counting down the days until Peter’s death, the audience gets a sense that deep down she is developing a fondness for her ageing yet sweet benefactor.

It’s all a bit “cool” again.

Each scene change is performed as a raved up catwalk scene. Characters strutting across the front of the stage in high heels holding cardboard placards with buzz words like “coquette” and “flirt” emblazoned on in thick marker. It’s all a bit “cool” again. It is an issue that many reviewers have rightly taken with Deborah Warner’s production.

Admittedly, the pumping pop music and pouting poseurs were unnecessary. Yet taking the outrageous liberty to speak for my generation, with our fish-like, MTV-plagued, attention spans, this tactic actually provided a useful way of navigating the play. It broke down the lengthy script in to pleasant bite-sized chunks. The loud musical interludes allowed the audience moments to refresh concentration and mentally recap on the action. It just would have been better if these sections weren’t quite so over the top.

Overall this is a good production that delivers solid laughs and class acting.

The production runs until 18 June.

Tickets start at £16

3 ½ Stars

Image courtesy of The Barbican

 

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