Review: The School For Scandal is in a class of its own

Ian Giles, Naomi Lombard, Katy Devine and Victoria Delaney in The School For Scandal. Photograph: Chris Mackins
5 Feb 2014 @ 12.19 pm
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Ian Giles, Naomi Lombard, Katy Devine and Victoria Delaney in The School For Scandal. Photograph: Chris Mackins
Ian Giles, Naomi Lombard, Katy Devine and Victoria Delaney in The School For Scandal. Photograph: Chris Mackins

Review: The School For Scandal by Upstart Theatre Company
Venue: Upstage Centre Theatre, February 4

Upstart Theatre Company’s adaptation of The School For Scandal saw brilliant performances, sustained by a professional-level production, leave the audience thrilled and entertained.

Sheridan’s comedy is known for having been a work in progress, reviewed several times by its author and never carved into a definite version. This means each adaptation has wide margins of freedom.

Upstart Theatre’s production, directed by Clancy McMullan, has moved the plot from its original 18th century setting to the early Sixties. A decisive shift that instils new life into the play, while preserving its main core, and respecting the linguistic tapestry.

The School For Scandal is about an exclusive clique of people revolving around the wealthy Sir Peter Teazle (performed by a wonderful Ian Giles).

The group regularly meets in Peter’s private club and spends most of its time gossiping about each other, suspecting adulteries, evaluating insinuations, and spreading rumours, in a vicious circle of self fulfilling distrust.

Middle-aged Peter has married a younger girl from a more modest background, Lady Teazle (Victoria Delaney), who through marriage has gained access to wealthier standards of living.

Lady Teazle loves fashion, loves spending time in society, and happily provides scandalous material for Lady Sneerwell (Rachel Alexander-Hill), head of the gossiping group.

Daniel Wilmot, Andrew Quarrell, Rachel Alexander-Hill and Jamie Searle enjoy a good gossip
Daniel Wilmot, Andrew Quarrell, Rachel Alexander-Hill and Jamie Searle enjoy a good gossip

Lady Sneerwell is the engine of a series of rumours and misunderstandings, crafted with clever malice in order to alienate the young and innocent Maria (Naomi Lombard) from Charles Surface (Jacco Thjssen).

In doing so, Lady Sneerwell overlaps with the insecurities of Peter towards his own wife and unwillingly pushes the characters into exhilarating and paradoxical confrontations.

While Lady Sneerwell enjoys “reducing others to the level of her own injured reputations”, each character has their peculiar way to react and enrich scandals, and each of them is perfectly portrayed by the body language, speech, and attitude of an amazingly malleable cast.

The complexity of the relationships between the characters might be confusing at first for an audience unfamiliar with the original play, but the work soon gains in clarity and opens to a wide range of dynamics.

Remarkable work by set designer Catherine Dawn and costume designer, the multi-talented Rachel Alexander-Hill, transports us directly into a world of rock’n’roll via Audrey Hepburn-like outfits.

Director Clancy McMullan, who also performs as Rowley, underlines how scandal and gossip are still central in a contemporary world in which the interest towards others easily turns into malicious voyeurism.

Preserving a good name is a priority characters eventually have to give up when their masks (or shall we say newspapers?) fall apart. That’s the moment in which we realise that the look proposed by the author on such human pettiness is benevolent rather than caustic.

In spite of living in a world in which “the fewer we praise the better”, there could still be a place for reconciliation, love perhaps, and certainly a fair amount of laughs.

Aside from a few minor slips, undoubtedly down to first-night nerves, the quality of the production is professional from any point of view and it may come as a surprise that The School For Scandal is just the second work produced by Upstart. Not to be missed.