Tim Treloar (Sir Toby), Beatrice Curnew (Lady Teazle) and Sir Benjamin Backbite (Gareth Kennerley) in The School for Scandal
The School for Scandal is precisely the sort of classic comedy top theatre critic Michael Billington has been mourning the lack of this week. And yet, here it is, being played at the Greenwich Theatre, right under his very nose.
The School for Scandal is indeed a classic Restoration comedy. The story concerns two brothers, Joseph and Charles Surface: one seemingly good, the other universally thought to be bad. Different girls want to marry each. There's a young new bride, Lady Teazle, who's not really enjoying life with her elderly husband, Sir Peter. And an uncle, returning from abroad, ready to don disguises to reveal the true personalities of the two heroes. Characters with names like Sir Benjamin Backbite and Mrs Candour spout clever words in between, gossiping and spreading the scandal of the title with 18th century charm.
The Greenwich Theatre production nods to School for Scandal's original period, with white painted faces and stylised beauty spots. Most of the cast then look like they've been dipped in glue and rolled through Camden Market: black My Chemical Romance military jackets, rubber leggings, purple basques, striped tights, plastic beads and fingerless gloves make this show look like it's been designed by a goth-loving sixth-former. An impression further enhanced by the strange bursts of rock music, and odd rock posturing by the actors each time they meet.
There's more subtlety in Neil Irish's staging: a fully circular stage, done up like a library, with an upper level finally brought to good, comic use in the second half when "bad brother" Charles sells all his old family portraits.
For the most part, the cast are comfortable with their comic roles. Samuel Collings seems to enjoy every moment as the slimy Joseph; Adam Redmore is immensely likeable as Charles; Mark Extance, as his uncle, is one of those actors who make you feel comfortable when you're watching them. Notable too, is Beatrice Curnew as Lady Teazle; and Harvey Virdi as Mrs Candour, whose hats seem to act as well as she does.
But for all its nice touches, this show fails to hit a level above mediocrity. Jonathan Battersby as Sir Peter regularly fluffs his lines; the drinking song and dance is far too long, and Sheridan's play somehow lacks a sense of growing tension under Elizabeth Freestone's somewhat pedestrian direction. Overall, there was nothing vital about this show to raise it to unmissable status.
We couldn't help wondering what the radical, theatrical 26-year-old Sheridan, (his age when he wrote the play) would've thought of the evening. Watching a 200-year-old show, being trotted out for Greenwich's MOR-theatregoers: teenagers who croak that "they only fell asleep twice" and the wrinklies behind us who failed to laugh once. And couldn't rememeber if they'd seen this before. Or if it was Lady Windermere's Fan they were thinking of. Or The Rivals...
School for Scandal is at Greenwich Theatre, Crooms Hill, London, SE10 8ES until 17 October. Tickets from £12.50 (£10 concs). Box office: 020 8858 7755.