The School for Scandal

Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Classics for Pleasure
(2006)

We are very fortunate that recordings were made fifty or more years ago of classic theatrical performances and improvements in technology make them sound as clear as if they were brand new.

Classics for Pleasure have recently issued half-a-dozen CD sets featuring actors that one has heard of but never seen; seen in grainy, grey films; or in certain cases, only seen in old age. This is an opportunity to enjoy performances by a different generation, often using an older but always well-articulated style.

The School for Scandal is a classic comedy and at just over two hours can easily be enjoyed in its audio format.

Many readers will know the story of Lady Sneerwell, Mrs Candour and their friends, who enjoy nothing so much as gossiping and making trouble for others in their wealthy, 18th century set. In this case, these two ladies are played by acting legends Dame Edith Evans and Athene Seyler, clearly enjoying themselves.

They are given plenty of opportunities, after the ageing Sir Peter Teazle - the wonderful Cecil Parker - chooses to marry a woman, played by Claire Bloom, who is little more than a child and easily young enough to be his daughter. It is amazing that 51 years after this Abbey Road recording, Miss Bloom, albeit with an American accent now, is currently appearing on a West End stage in Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks.

The problems begin to mount as Lady Teazle and her husband's ward Maria, played by Anne Leon, are courted by a pair of brothers, Joseph and Charles Surface.

In a classic dramatic twist, Harry Andrews as cool, calm Joseph is rather a scoundrel, while his dissolute brother Charles (Alec Clunes) has a heart of gold.

All becomes apparent when their ageing uncle Sir Oliver returns from overseas and appears before them in disguise. Balliol Holloway proves excellent in this role with its opportunities for verbal exhibitionism.

All comes right in the end, thanks to the honesty of Snake, a man played by Michael Gough (who is still with us and apparently still acting, although soon to celebrate his 90th birthday) to whom speaking the truth comes wholly unnaturally; and the hard-to-disguise inclinations of the two brothers.

The ending may be a little bit too happy-ever-after for modern tastes but the comedy is excellent and the opportunity to hear these vintage actors a treat.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher