There’s more gossip flying around in Sheridan’s comedy The School For Scandal than there is on Twitter at the moment… and there are no publicity-shy footballers in Deborah Warner’s production.
There is, however, a whole heap of concept and design thrown at Sheridan’s tale of a society obsessed with reputations – and ruining them – sex, style and fashion.
From the moment the audience enters the auditorium to find a fashion show in full swing, it is clear that this is not going to be a simple, straight reading of Sheridan’s social satire. As the models parade holding placards of character descriptions, the point about labelling people could not be made any clearer if someone else was holding a sign to point it out.
As the catwalk performance fades into the play proper, most of the characters are in full period dress, though others are transformed on stage amid the action. This is just one of the references linking the past goings-on of Sheridan’s story with the current time.
The obvious inference, of course, is that today’s society is not entirely dissimilar to the one at which Sheridan is poking fun. There are still those, like Lady Sneerwell, who get their kicks from spreading malicious rumours about others. I think we call them tabloid hacks. There are those, like Harry Melling’s flamboyant Benjamin Backbite and Stephen Kennedy’s equally exuberant Crabtree, who love nothing more than a good gossip. There are those, like Katherine Parkinson’s Lady Teazle, who marry merely for money and station, and like Alan Howard’s aloof Sir Peter Teazle, who might know better than to deliberately hunt out a much-younger wife.
Throw in a timeless morality tale about two brothers – one who appears prim and proper but is morally corrupt, the other who is a frivolous carouser with his heart in the right place – and Sheridan’s satire may never have been more relevant.
Yet it is the show’s stylings that stick in the mind, rather than the content. The performances are strong, though most of the characters are dislikeable, but thoughts of costume, set and scene construction push them a little into the background, where these image conscious society movers and shakers really wouldn’t want to be.