The School for Scandal

5 May

Changing sexual mores might lead us to think the concept of Reputation is old fashioned.

But, of course, it’s still going strong. Reputation, and its evil twin Scandal, have just moved on to aspects of Life other than what’s done between consenting adults.

In our fluid, supposedly-classless society, the disputed territory labeled Reputation now centres on our professional life. You only have to listen in a theatre foyer to sense the pleasure derived from destroying the good name of others.

Director David Burrowes’ take on Sheridan’s classic School for Scandal is a terrifically fun night of theatre.

The performances are brilliant. Sheridan is one of our greatest wits, and Burrowes allows that to shine. This is a night pleasing to the ear – and to the eye; Burrowes has assembled a cast of virtuoso physicality.

Eleanor Stankiewicz gives a tremendous performance as the gleefully manipulative Lady Sneerwell. She’s languid, confident and self assured. Jacob Warner as the conniving Joseph Surface is a delight to watch. As his plans unravel and his desperation mounts, even the smallest piece of furniture seems to get in his way. Sasha Dyer as Maria, despite being Sheridan’s designated ‘good girl’, gives a superb turn as the drunken teenager attempting to hide her intoxication. Her catching of a ‘dropped’ vase is worth the admission price alone. Marty O’Neill’s Sir Peter Teazle has made the mistake of marrying a woman thirty years his junior, and the physical dynamics between him and his wife, played by Madeleine Withington, are a master class in odd couple tensions and frustrations. Emma Harvie, as a servant girl, gives a brilliant comic portrayal of mechanical obsequiousness, layered ever so gently with a pathos that suggests a vast hidden emotional life.

(pic by Matthias  Engesser)

(pic by Matthias Engesser)

And the entire cast allows the very clever dialogue to crackle. Richard Cotter is marvelous as Sir Oliver Surface, negotiating his many disguises with joyous ease. Samantha Ward, as Ms Candour, is blithely verbose, delighting in the destruction of people’s reputations under the guise of friendly honesty. And Rhys Keir as Charles Surface, the supposed profligate, is charisma at its most agreeable.

Production designer Isabella Andronos gives us a simple white box, a chic minimalist aesthetic and costumes that are modern and very sexy. It’s beautifully done. It’s very easy on the eye, and it’s the perfect uncluttered space for the very talented cast to do their magic.

Sheridan’s play is satirical, and it only takes a little serious self-reflection to realise it’s still relevant. Why do we take such satisfaction in bringing others down?

But it’s worth noting that The School For Scandal is a traditional comedy with a traditional happy ending and (surely this is not a spoiler), the Truth being ultimately revealed, each character gets what they deserve. I used the word traditional – because the play can hardly be the final word on Reputation. The childish satisfaction we find in Scandal is something we obviously must grow beyond, but perhaps even the concept of Reputation, with its inherent conservatism, can be transcended……

Veronica Kaye

The School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan

at New Theatre til 30 May

http://newtheatre.org.au/

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