School for Scandal

Richard Sheridan’s comedy School for Scandal has been revived at the Barbican by Deborah Warner, the Barbican’s artistic associate.

Set in 1777, the play concerns group of well-to-do in society who enjoy getting together and gossiping about their friends who aren’t present. Some just enjoy the telling of the story, others have an ulterior motive: Lady Sneerwell plants gossip about Charles Surface so he will  lose his girl Maria, and his brother Joseph Surface helps Lady Sneerwell to win Maria. When the Surface’s wealthy uncle turns up from the East- Indies, he goes undercover to discover who of the two brother should be his heir. Soon he unravels reputation and exposes genuine character.

The subject of gossip is still relevant, as demonstrated just before the play starts: the audience is watched by the cast, pointed at and at occassions snapped by a camera on mobile phones.

Warner has chosen for modern staging: the set is a variation on a blackbox theatre, mixed with a modern take on the traditional backdrops. The backdrops are black and white drawings, that are pulled up and/or suspended in air when appropriate. The concept is played with: most memorably the entrance of the wealthy uncle that is highlighted by a huge drawn arrow.  Every ” Location, Act and Scene” is also written on posters and displayed to the audience.

Scene-changes are done while loud modern music blasts and words are projected. Unfortunately the music was so thunderingly loud  in comparison to the dialogue, that it made the scene-changes almost an event in itself. Perhaps that was the aim, though it seemed a little distracting.

Some scenes were solely lit by multiple side-lights, that created that open blackbox theatre feel. Yet as not the whole stage is lit, position becomes key and some actors delivered their lines with their face in darkness: this is where the older actors showed their experience and found the light in each scene.

Costume is alternatively in traditional 18th century costume and modern clothing. The opening scene sees Lady Sneerwell getting changed from modern clothing into her gorgeous dress: symbolism of what is behind the facade? Perhaps. Like Charles Surface, a hard-partying socialite who is dressed in jeans, trainers and just a nice 18th Century jacket: he doesn’t seem to care much about appearances.

The only thing that grated a little, is the main reason the play has been troublesome in the past: the character of Moses, the friendly Jew. Jews aren’t portrayed favourably and the difference it makes with say Avenue Q, which is really un-PC, is the fact that this comedy wasn’t written as a (modern) parody. Personally I was also a little disappointed by the lack of racial diversity amongst the main characters in this modern setting, which could have perhaps counterbalanced this issue. This production has tried to solved it by making Moses a very comedic character, so kudos to the actor who gets the laughs of the tentative audience.

Still the company worked with the existing material and bar some staging issues that can be tweaked ( we sat next to a man with a notebook and a pass around his neck, presumably making notes.) have made an entertaining production to watch.

Sunday morning 10 am

Everyone else seems still asleep.

At the table I am reading an old magazine and sipping freshly made coffee.

I have no big plans for today.

Outside the scouts are out in their little boats, complete with helmet and life jackets.

They make me think about the little boy who sat behind us in the theatre of the Barbican last night.

Totally mesmerised by the spectacle of Peter Pan by the National Theatre of Scotland.

At one point he got up from his chair and leaned so much forward I thought he might fall in my sister’s lap.

Untouched by social etiquette he  still ooh’d and aaah’d out loud at Peter’s flying antics and wondered at the little flying fire that represented Tinkerbell the Fire Fairy. ( “Is that Real Fire mum? Is it really real?”)

It was evident that he had read up on the story as you could hear him mumbling comments on the characters and actions. Perhaps this would have been annoying with anyone else but the best part was that he didn’t even seem comment consciously or to anyone in particular. He was just sucked into the story.

Nobody seemed to mind, and I noticed more than a few suppressed sniggers in our row when he cringed even louder at Mr and Mrs Darling’s celebrating a happy ending (” Eew why do they have to kiss? It’s disgusting!”)

When the play ended it was nearly 10pm but his eyes were aglow.

Last night magic happened for seat 16 row G.

Back to coffee and magazine.

I am considering putting a DVD on but perhaps not.

Maybe I’ll enjoy the silence for just a little bit longer…