After their youth infused production of Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare At The Tobacco Factory revert back to house rules for their stylish, clear and reassuringly entertaining version of Sheridan’s The School For Scandal.
Nicholas Hytner recently revealed there was no director willing to put this play on at the National Theatre but he clearly wasn’t spreading his net wide enough. For SATTF artistic director Andrew Hilton’s trademark style; clear diction, emphasis on serving the text over directorial interpretation, is a welcome fit for Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s benchmark play. He finds enough truth even in the slightly arch Restoration style to ensure he keeps audience onside over its slightly elongated three hours.
It is the terrific ensemble which will be remembered most come end of year. Daisy Whalley, who made a tentative Juliet earlier in the season, is a much stronger presence here as the young trophy wife of Christopher Bianci’s dignified Sir Peter Tezale. She manages to make the reading of character feel both contemporary and relatable even whilst dressed up in full Restoration style. Bianci is as reliably secure as ever and Papa Essiedu as the young rake who turns Whalley’s head confirms all the promise that electrified in Romeo and Juliet.
Julia Hill’s Lady Sneerwell is a dignified villainess, a Cruella deville of the gossips, and there is an odious Snake from Paul Currier, while a beacon of hope in this vain, tittle tattle world is given in Jack Whalley’s playboy turned good.
Adding a prologue and epilogue that links their gossip filled times with our own; where twitter and selfies and daily mail sidebars of shame have become commonplace, is a good idea and is performed with camp relish by Byron Mondahl but it could have made the same point over half the time and the famous screen scene doesn’t reach its full comic heights due to the in-the round staging.
These are minor caveats though in what is another high grade addition to the portfolio the company have built up. SATTF have made Bristol home to high grade Shakespeare over the past fifteen years and it’s great to see them spreading their wings further with the choice of play in recent seasons. If I can be greedy I would love to see what the company would do with some Marlowe or a bloody Jacobean tragedy.