Thursday, December 07, 2006

REVIEW: The School For Scandal (Abbey Theatre, Dublin)

When Lady Sneerwell and the other gossips of her school for scandal swing into action, it takes a few moments to adjust to the highfalutin buzz of eighteenth century English in the Abbey’s Christmas show. Or perhaps, the slight delay is just a moment of confused recovery from staring at the retina-zapping red set that strafes the audience before the actors arrive.

Luckily enough, when the cast set to work the performances have the kind of torrential flow that soon enough makes you feel as at home with Lady Candour, Joseph Surface and Sir Benajmin Backbite as you might be in the company of Felicity Shagwell.

Sheridan’s vicious comedy was first staged in 1777, but here gets the kind of ridiculously ramped up production that makes it look like, if not a teenager, at least as sprightly a 223-year-old as you are likely to meet. The plan here is clearly seasonal fun – and seasonal colour. But the quality of the material means the show refuses to lie down and simply entertain. Jimmy Fay, not a director you might immediately associate with rollicking good fun, gives the production the shape and momentum it needs to capture both the farce and the frightening viciousness of it all.

The ensemble cast is pretty much uniformedly on the money. So it is entirely unfair to single out some top quality mincing from David Pearse, whose grandiloquent clown, Sir Benjamin Backbite is timelessly grotesque, or Mark Lambert’s dry old stick, Sir Peter Teazle, or the crowd-pleasing Rory Keenan, with his Colin Farrell badboy act as the wastrel, Charles Surface.

Ferdia Murphy’s set (a half sister to the one for Emilia Galloti at this year’s theatre festival) is an startling white, cartoon box decorated with simple graphics, providing a clever ground for Paul Keogan’s scene-setting lighting and the multicar pile-up of Leonore McDonagh’s ever more nauseously clashing costumes. Nicely done.

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