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THEATRE: 03 MAY 2015

By GERALDINE WORTHINGTON

The School for Scandal, by Richard Brinsley Sheridan | Directed by David Burrowes

New Theatre (newtheatre.org.au) | New Theatre, Newtown, Sydney | Until 30 May

In his brief career as a playwright, before he became an MP, Richard Sheridan wrote two long-lasting stage comedies: The Rivals — which gave the language the word ‘malapropism’ — and the 1777 satire on high-society gossip-mongering, The School for Scandal.

Sheridan’s 18th-century comedy of manners may appear not to have too much applicability to the 21st century but New Theatre’s entertaining adaptation aims and succeeds in drawing parallels.

The convoluted plot revolves around the interwoven financial and emotional lives of the Surface brothers — respectable but covertly deceitful Joseph (Jacob Warner) and Charles (Rhys Keir), a spendthrift rake with a good heart. The arrival of their long-lost uncle, Sir Oliver (Richard Cotter), from Australia, occasions the pursuit for his financial favours by both brothers.

Meanwhile, in another part of town, Lady Sneerwell (Eleanor Stankiewicz) is spending her time spreading gossip and ruining reputations as well as attempting to break up the relationship between Maria (Sasha Dyer), a young heiress, and Charles, whom she secretly desires.

Add to this a marital spat that flares in the house of Sir Peter Teazle (Marty O’Neill), a well-to-do old codger who has wed the young daughter of a country squire and seen her turn into Lady Teazle (Madeleine Withington), a compulsive gossip-monger and fashion-obsessed poser, and you have a complicated comedy of mistaken identities, frustrated love and domestic discord.

There is an array of characters — servants, confidents and social climbers too numerous to mention, and there is overall, some entertaining ensemble acting from the cast. On opening night there were some lapses in pace, but that said, there was a lot of fun to be had from all the twists and turns and increasingly farcical situations.

The production values are excellent. Isabella Andronos’ handsome stage design is very white and very ‘now’ and the costumes aided instant character recognition, whilst Ryan Devlin’s sound design assisted entrances and exits and the production’s pace and kept the many mobiles tweeting.

It is a difficult and ambitious play to perform, and director David Burrowes makes an impressive attempt to create a fresh, stylised and pertinent production. Overly long by today’s standards, there is however enough comedic stage activity to keep the audience engaged.

Of course, underlying all the comedy and frivolity there are some serious themes: condemnation of the widely adopted practice of slander, greed, deception, artificiality and the dangers of gambling and drinking. Worth a look.

Image: Bob Seary.