The School For Scandal

Written by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Directed by Barrie Rutter
Northern Broadsides, Everyman Theatre
26th September - 1st October 2005

Reviewed by Adam Ford

For the most part, The School For Scandal concerns itself with betrayal and infidelity. It is an eighteenth century comedy of manners, and has lines like “we live in a damned wicked world, and the fewer we praise the better”. So how could it have its twenty-first century audience convulsing with violent laughter? Well quite easily, if it’s performed the Northern Broadsides way. That means incredibly enthusiastic acting, lurid costumes and proper regional accents on the stage.

The school of the title is a group of tittle-tattlers and prattlers led by the pitiless Lady Sneerwell (Sara Poyser) and Mrs Candour (Sue McCormick) – who is at least open about being two-faced. Their newest recruit is Lady Teazle (Sally Carman), who has recently been ‘rescued’ from an apparently miserable existence in the countryside by her new husband Sir Peter (Barrie Rutter). He’s old enough to be her father – which would be cause enough for whispers – even if there weren’t other men in town rumoured to be taking an interest. Amongst them is renowned ‘libertine’ Charles Surface (Simon Holland Roberts). But then he only has eyes for Maria (Catherine Kinsella). And it seems like there a million other performers, almost all of whom are superb. The speed of delivery and complexity of the wordplay means that some laughs are lost, but you can easily forgive that. You still get about five every minute for nearly three hours, plus five musical interludes, where the cast do a very good job of playing their instruments very badly.

This dusty old standard has had the life breathed back into it by Barrie Rutter’s company. Though the main characters are called Sir this and Lady that, though they are decked in flamboyantly foppish clothing, and though they have pompous delusions of grandeur, it is very easy to imagine them down the local gossiping over a fag and a pint of bitter. In fact, having seen the Northern Broadsides version, it’s hard to imagine them any other way.

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