The School for Scandal
Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Rose Theatre, Rose Bruford College, Sidcup, Kent
The Rose Theatre at Sidcup is a modern theatre in the round, ideal for visibility and proximity. My favourite kind of venue, in fact. And the Cafe in the foyer serves an excellent cup of tea.
The built-up stage was painted in large black and white squares - symbolising good and evil, perhaps, or a game of chess. There was a neatly integrated mix of period styles in the set, the music and the costumes: the late 18th century of the original, and the early 21st century of the present day. An example of this was the cleverly conceived "club" scene at the beginning of the play, during which doorkeepers with headset microphones frisked the 18th century guests. And, rather than modern "disco" style dancing, there was a nicely choreographed 18th century dance for three couples.
There was a dazzling array of costumes. Mrs Candour's (Helen Horky) was especially colourful and extravagant, completed by an untidy, frizzy ginger wig. The pure and innocent young Maria (Maria Hansen) was dressed in pale blue and white, and looked as demure as a shepherdess in a pastoral watercolour painting. And Charles Surface (Stephen Kershaw) looked dashing in black leather trousers and a long tartan jacket. I must confess I found Lady Sneerwell's (Sarah Borges) wig distracting - a short black wig with a bright red fringe, it seemed to sit too low over her eyes. Borges doubled as a female Moses with a good American accent, wearing a smart black modern City suit.
There were some exuberant and extravagant performances: Mr Crabtree (Ben Worth) moved around the stage like a tall, thin frog doing an arthritic jig. He and Sir Benjamin Backbite (Joel Davey) were a wonderfully foppish duo with their clownish makeup, raised eyebrows and fixed grins. Alex Hardy as Sir Oliver Surface was a joy to watch for his cheeky smile, and he produced a good Irish accent when disguised as 'Mr Stanley'. Fred Magnus was interesting as the gutter-press journalist Snake, standing in a twisted way to reflect his character's name and personality.
The screen scene was well managed - the screen itself was partially covered with maps, as required by the text, but was otherwise transparent, so it was possible to watch the reactions of Lady Teazle (Poppy Roe) throughout the conversation between her longsuffering husband Sir Peter Teazle (Benjamin L. Wray) and the villainous Joseph Surface (James Crooke).
This was a performance full of great moments, and there were no dull ones. My own personal highlight, I have to confess, was when Joseph Surface fell literally at my feet (I was in the front row) in his eagerness to escape an angry Sir Peter. Perhaps I shall never know whether that was accidental or deliberate, but it sure was fun!
Reviewer: Gill Stoker