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BWW Reviews: SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL Proves The Comedy Of Manners In 1770's London Society Is Still As Relevant Over Two Centuries Later.

Thursday 30th April 2015, New Theatre, Newtown

Richard Brinsley Sheridan's SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL, first staged in London in 1777, is given a modern treatment by New Theatre with great success. Blending the language of 18th Century London with modern high society excess and hedonism and the occasional update to references demonstrates that people really haven't changed as Sheridan's study on manners and character still rings true to contemporary audiences.

The manipulation, deceit, and gossiping habits of the upper classes unfold in the homes of Lady Sneerwell, Sir Peter Teazle, Charles Surface and Joseph Surface, in this highly amusing satire. A lady of leisure seeks to undermine her romantic rival through planted letters and circulated stories, conspiring with a seemingly honorable gentlemen who has set his sights on marrying for money, seeking to ruin his rival to the lady's affections who also happens to be his brother. A bored socialite who fills her days with gossip whilst perpetually claiming to frown upon the practice. Lecherous men and women wanting to corrupt the young and devious 'friends' whose loyalty can be bought. These are countered by the rich old men that must deal with the games of the young to determine true characters despite the stories circulating about excess and greed. Whilst Director David Burrowes has taken some liberties with the characters, changing genders and updating the script to include reference to social media and modern habits including ever present smart phones, he has captured the modern equivalent stereotypes of the characters well.

Production Designer Isabella Andronos has converted the New Theatre black box space to a proscenium theatre complete with gold curtain allowing dramatic reveals of the changes of set occupying the stark white stage fitted with rear double doors and side doorways. The story takes place in a series of rooms including Lady Sneerwell's boudoir fitted with chaise lounge and a rainbow clothes rack and Sir Teazle's living room complete with a family portrait and tributes to his wife's pug.

Andronos' costume design also helps establish the various characters and stereotypes from the solid colors of the young socialites, the patterns and graphic clothes Charles and his carefree friends wear and the reserved suits favored by the older characters. Ryan Devlin's sound design helps set the era before the curtains are drawn with a blend of orchestral and modern synthetic pop music and filling the void as the curtains are drawn during set changes.

Eleanor Stankiewicz portrays the rich widow Lady Sneerwell with sinister sensuality as she sets her sights on the extravagant rogue Charles Surface (Rhys Keir). Billie Scott gives the twink Snake a flamboyance as he minces around in short shorts, seemingly at Lady Sneerwell's beck and call. Jacob Warner's Joseph Surface has the confidence of one who believes his reputation is intact as he shares 'rehearsed' honorable intentions whilst lusting after his brother's sweethearts money and the trophy bride of the older Sir Peter Teazle (Marty O'Neill). Samantha Ward as Ms Candour creates a tacky socialite in leopard print who sees herself as moralistic despite continuously getting drawn into sharing salacious stories of 'friends'. Tal Benjamin as Sir Benjamin Backbite and Chantel Leseberg as Crabtree (one of the roles where gender has been changed) are portrayed as brother and sister letches that want to scandalize the principled young Maria (Sasha Dyer) as they join Ms Candour in spreading rumors. Dyer's Maria is presented with a quiet respectability as she tries to maintain her composure whilst her peers are sharing their stories, eventually joining in the indulgence of liquid vices with hilarious physical effect. Madeline Withington portrays Sir Peter's young bride Lady Teazle with the greed and frivolity of a sterotypical gold digger as she toys with his affection and argues to get what she wants.

Protagonist Charles Surface (Rhys Keir) is presented as a carefree rogue selling off the family heirlooms to raise cash as he entertains his friends and the servants of the other households. The older characters trying to make sense of the lies and deception include wealthy uncle Sir Oliver Surface (Richard Cotter) who takes on disguises of posture and voice to uncover his nephews true nature. Sir Oliver's impression of the nephews is shared with Sir Peter's servant Rowley (Peter Flett) who is presented with a level of rigidity in keeping with his history in service whilst Sir Peter believes the other nephew to be the generous and good one.

The quiet achievers in the work are the three servants that have each created indivual personalities. Moreblessing Matureure, Emma Harvie and Nick Rowe inject some hilarious moments with physical comedy as they move in and out of scenes in, for the most part, silence. They also show that the shenanigans of the upper class do not go unnoticed or unjudged but as long as cash is handed over, they'll appear as dutiful help.

Sheridan's clever script is combined with fabulous use of the space and physical comedy in this well paced tight performance which garners roars of laughter. This is a fabulous night of entertainment whilst examining human behavior that would appeal to all audiences.

SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL

New Theatre, 542 King Street, Newtown

28 April - 30 May 2015

Photos: Matthias Engesser

Eleanor Stankiewicz and Billie Scott (Photo: Matthias Engesser)
Chantel Leseberg, Tel Benjamin, Madeline Withington, Eleanor Stankiewicz and Samantha Ward (Photo: Matthias Engesser)
Samantha Ward, Marty O'Neill, Tel Benjamin, Chantel Leseberg (Photo: Matthias Engesser)
Madeline Withington and Marty O'Neill (Photo: Matthias Engesser)
Marty O'Neill, Jacob Warner and Madeleine Withington (Photo: Matthias Engesser)

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