Culture: Theatre

The School For Scandal

The Park Theatre is London’s newest theatre space and a great boost to the burgeoning arts scene in Finsbury Park.

It’s the setting for Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The School for Scandal, a fine restoration comedy, full of aptly named characters that sizzle on the the tongue, such as Lady Sneerwell and Sir Benjamin Backbite.

The play is a catty little comedy of manners, where rumour and gossip are taken for gospel truth. The opening scene takes place in Lady Sneerwell’s drawing room, where she plots the downfall of others with the dastardly Joseph Surface (Tom Berish).

The School For Scandal

The role of Lady Sneerwell is played with relish by Belinda Lang. She brings an arch humour to the character as well as undercurrents of resentment brought on by having her character assassinated while she was still in the first bloom of youth. She is now determined to bring about the same fate to as many of her friends and enemies as possible.

Mrs Candour – and was there ever a more undeserved name – is played by Buffy Davis with great gusto. The red-headed harpy is a worthy adversary for Lady Sneerwell, and makes up so many tales of sexual intrigue that she begins to believe her own gossipy stories of bed-hopping.

The 12-strong cast keep the energy high and the laughs long with their delivery of the witty lines. Director Jessica Swale makes sure that this play, first brought to the stage in 1777, hits the zeitgeist of the modern age.

The 18th century public was as craven for gossip and scandal mongering as we are today. They had Town and Country magazine, a monthly publication full of sexual scandal and we have Perez Hilton and the Mail Online.

And the award for Best Fop of the Year goes to Michael Bryher, who plays Sir Benjamin Backbite with camp, saucy innuendo and heartbroken swain in equal parts.

He quickly turns from ardent suitor of the young ingénue Maria (Jessica Clark) to a tearful toddler, stamping his feet when thwarted. His light comic touch sparkles when belting out his song to Maria – riffing from West Side Story lyrics to a rousing Blondie rendition.

Bosoms heave, men bow extravagantly, with hand on hip, uttering epithets such as “Egad!” and “Zounds!” when eloquence fails them. It all sounds so much more wonderful than our limited range of four-letter word tirades.

The School For Scandal is on at the Park Theatre until 7 July 2013

Words: Fiona Keating

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