School For Scandal - Fringe 2009
This Comedians’ Theatre Company production is a riot of corpsing, in-jokes and general mucking about, occasionally interrupted by a Restoration comedy.
It is, apparently, how Sheriden would have wanted it. His Georgian comedy of manners was intended to be loosely performed, allowing celebrity actors of the day free reign to embellish the script and play to their stage persona. In this way it’s the perfect Edinburgh play, able to employ stand-ups who are the stars of this particular month-long insular society, where they are temporarily famous for their individual styles.
The finer points of the plot do get lost amid all the high-jinks, making the overly-busy production more of a playground where the cast can don powdered wigs and extravagant bustles or breeches and run around the elegant set as if they’ve each just guzzled a litre of Sunny D. At one point, an exasperated character utters, with typically anachronistic nod to the audience: ‘It’s Restoration comedy, not Pappy’s Fun Club, for flip’s sake.’ Could have fooled us.
The star casting is 77-year-old Lionel Blair, as the henpecked Sir Peter Teazle, husband of a much younger wife (Bridget Christie, blowing nicely hot and cold), and butt of many a gag about his advancing years. The fact that the jokes could be as much about the character as the celebrity playing him is typical of the essence of the show.
He might be the big name, but he’s not necessarily the star. That honour probably goes to Amy Saunders – best known as sword-swallower Miss Behave – playing the scheming Lady Sneerwell (none-too-subtly named given her propensity to scoff at others) with over-the-top finesse.
King of the scene-stealers, in a cast riddled with them, is Steve Jameson as Moses. In many recent productions, the character’s Jewish heritage has been played down, for fear of anti-semitism. But here, he Heebs it up, wisecracking like Groucho Marx, and almost as funny.
Running him a close second is the foppish Paul Foot, who was born to prance around with such effete exaggeration. Sometimes his physical flourishes are over-the-top even for this unsubtle production, but you still just have to watch him.
Ella Kenion’s Mrs Candour is also a delight; her jaw quivering with delight at the prospect of imparting or learning some fresh nugget of salacious gossip. Marcus Brigstocke gets to be a supercilious, aloof wastrel, Stephen K Amos is a lightweight but flamboyant comic relief, and Phil Nichol is a central fulcrum of relative restraint – that shows just how out-of-control the extravagance has got.
In some ways, it’s an embarrassment of riches, with too much going on – both scripted and otherwise – as the flourishes overwhelm the actual play. Acclaimed director Cal McCrystal could do with tightening some segments up, while still allowing for improvisation, if the production is to have any life outside Edinburgh. Though given the size of the cast and the commitment needed, that may well prove impossible.
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