Theatre Review – Barbican 2011 – School for Scandal
I have to admit, I’ve been putting off writing this theatre review. Not because it was bad, definately not because it was bad. It was one of those productions that was so engaging and complete it is hard to write a critical review of it. It is much easier to write a critical theatre review of a production with obvious faults and so much theatre in London has something to pick up on in that respect. The Barbican is not a venue I visit often, mostly because I live in West London and there are usually things on that I can see at the South Bank or West End that are easier to get to. But this particular production was tempting and I was pleasantly suprised by the Barbican Theatre as a venue. Our seats were very comfy and the design meant that entrance and exit to the Theatre was easy. And, joy of joys, there were enough ladies loos!
Deborah Warner’s production of School for Scandal at the Barbican has received good to excellent theatre reviews from all the major critics so far as I can see. But despite that the season has not sold out and indeed I believe performances have been cancelled. I suspect the London Theatre audiences are nervous of period drama, particularly the sort that many of us remember from school days. But this revival production makes the play considerably more accessible (at least than I remember from A-Level English Lit days) and brings it to life in a modern context.
The play starts with a very upbeat staging of the preparation for a fashion show. Actors walk to the front holding roughly written out boards with descriptors we will see exemplified in their character through the play. ‘Self Obsessed’, ‘Hypocrite’, ‘Peverse and Obstinant’. At this point, costume is contemporary but as the play starts, chameleon like, each actor takes on their eighteenth century costume.
The plot follows the cuckolding of a wealthy gentleman who has married a younger woman looking to improve her social standing, the unveiling of the true character of a young laggard and the denudation of his older, apparently better behaved brother. It’s full of scandal and intrigue as the title suggests and lends itself very well to the hybrid production complete with coke snorting, designer carrier bags and mobile phones, all in 18th century costume. The acting is well paced and the characterisation superb.
And it works. It’s one of the best theatre productions I’ve seen in London, it’s certainly the best theatre production I’ve tried to review. Perhaps that explains why I’ve found it so hard to write this theatre review but, it is well worth catching it while it is still on stage.