Stratford's lavish production of the centuries-old comedy takes a satiric swipe at social media
THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL by Richard Brinsley Sheridan (Stratford). At the Avon Theatre. To October 21. $25-$189. 1-800-567-1600. See listing. Rating: NNNN
Today, reputations can be ruined in seconds with a single vicious Facebook post or accusatory tweet. Things took a little longer in the 18th century.
But director Antoni Cimolino begins and ends his sharp production of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1777 play The School For Scandal with a satiric swipe at social media, drawing parallels between our gossip-saturated world and that of 240 years ago.
The school in the title refers to a clutch of busybodies who hope, with a suggestion here and an innuendo there, to disrupt the marriage of Sir Peter Teazle (Geraint Wyn Davies) and his new young wife, Lady Teazle (Shannon Taylor).
Meanwhile, there’s allegedly romantic competition between brothers Joseph (Tyrone Savage) and Charles Surface (Sebastien Heins) for the affections of Sir Peter’s ward Maria (Monice Peter). Add the reappearance of the brothers’ benefactor uncle, Sir Oliver (Joseph Ziegler), who sets out, disguised, to test the young men’s loyalty, and you’ve got the makings of a classic farce with a nasty layer of societal critique.
Cimolino’s lavish production begins with a clever scene in which Lady Sneerwell (Maev Beaty), one of the alpha mean girls in the eponymous school, dons the elegant dress and wig in which she’s going to do battle. (It’s sort of the reverse of that famous closing scene in Dangerous Liaisons where Glenn Close’s Marquise, reputation destroyed, takes off her makeup.)
While the first act features lots of exposition, there’s plenty to look at, especially Julie Fox’s stunning sets and costumes the wigs alone have their own personalities.
The payoff comes in act two, which contains one of the richest scenes in English comedy, here delivered by a cast in total control of their characters. Savage is excellent as the hypocritical cad whose lies start catching up to him Davies is a delight going from concerned husband to giggling conspirator to possible cuckold and Taylor is a revelation as a woman who, though unseen for much of the scene, emerges to deliver one of the play’s most poignant speeches.
The rest of the play, buoyed by the momentum of this extended sequence, flies by in an amusing mix of comic confession, bitchy comeback and tender revelation.
This Scandal is so good you’ll want to get on social media right afterwards to spread the word.