The School for Scandal

Richard Brindsley Sheridan
Bruiser Theatre Company at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast
(2004)

Critics of Richard Sheridan's extravagant 18th century comedy of manners may carp that it has about as much relevance to the modern world as the abacus, yet Martin Mooney's adaptation of The School for Scandal aims to draw parallels between Sheridan's group of scandalmongers and our own gossip-obsessed culture.

Set in the fashionable London society of the 1740s, Sheridan exploits his characters' love of intrigue to create a comedy of mistaken identities, thwarted love and domestic strife. Mooney however, attempts to offer an alternative reading of the play. He sees The School for Scandal as a critique of colonial greed. Charles and Joseph Surface may have completely opposing characters but they both rely on their Uncle Oliver's Indian money without caring how it was obtained. However, this alternative reading is often swamped by the occasionally convoluted nature of the original text.

Sheridan's love of intricate plot twists becomes even more evident as the play unfolds. Under Lisa May's direction, the play takes on a further level of complexity. The actors constantly swap roles, adding to the slight sense of disorientation. Period costume is replaced with a unisex uniform of corsets, loose breeches and mask-like white make-up. In fact the characters can only be clearly identified according to their exaggerated body padding. Lady Sneerwell's (Laura Hughes) derriere and Sir Joseph Surface's (Sean Paul O'Rawe) breeches are padded to grotesque proportions. Whereas, Sir Charles Surface's (Simon Imrie) stocky frame is tightly squeezed into a miniscule corset.

In May's stripped down production, elaborate props give way to a set of functional white cubes. Sir Peter's bath doubles as Joseph's screen and Lady Sneerwell's salon chairs, an effect which works particularly well during moments of physical comedy. The relative lack of scenery allows the plot to develop at a furious rate but what is gained in fluidity is sometimes lost in comprehension. At times during the performance the audience seemed visibly perplexed by the speed of dialogue and the constant character changes. Furthermore, the lack of visible wealth detracts from the depiction of the characters as greedy colonists.

Despite any other reservations about the production, the acting was impressive. Sharon Morwood cuts a convincing figure as the faintly ludicrous Sir Benjamin Backbite and as vain Lady Teazle. However, she raised the biggest laugh of the evening as an aggrieved duck. Daniel Costello as Sir Peter manages to convey his character's pathetic state without making him seem like a one-dimensional fool. Similarly Laura Hughes as Lady Sneerwell, Simon Imrie as Sir Charles Surface and Sean Paul O'Rawe as Joseph Surface display a remarkable range of skills as they swiftly transform from one character to another.

The School for Scandal is a difficult play to perform, particularly in front of such a young audience. The Bruiser Theatre Company makes a strong attempt to create a fresh and relevant production. However, audiences can feel confused and ultimately disinterested when the plot is sacrificed in favour of a heavily stylised production.

Tour Details

19th April 8.00pm NTL Studio, Waterfront Hall 90 334455
20th April 10.30am NTL Studio, Waterfront Hall 90 334455
20th April 8.00pm NTL Studio, Waterfront Hall 90 334455
21st April 7.30pm Clotworthy Arts Centre, Antrim 94 428000
22nd April 10.15am Clotworthy Arts Centre, Antrim 94 428000
23rd April 7.45pm St. Patrick's Hall, Strabane 71 382204
24th April 8.00pm Down Arts Centre, Downpatrick 44 615283
29th April 8.00pm Watergate Theatre, Kilkenny 056 7761674
30th April 8.00pm Ardhowen Theatre, Enniskillen 66 325440

1st May 8.00pm Island Arts Centre, Lisburn 92 509254
5th May 8.30pm Glen Centre, Manorhamilton 071 9855833
6th May 8.00pm Riverside Theatre, Coleraine 70 323232
7th May 1.00pm Riverside Theatre, Coleraine 70 323232
7th May 8.00pm Riverside Theatre, Coleraine 70 323232
8th May 8.00pm Riverside Theatre, Coleraine 70 323232
12th May 8.00pm An Grianan Theatre Letterkenny 074 9120777
14th May 8.00pm Derry Playhouse 71 268027
15th May 8.00pm Market Place Theatre, Armagh 37 521821

Reviewer: Claire Simpson