Writer: Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Director: Jamie Lloyd
Reviewer: Joan Phillips
Sheridan’s witty and sharp reflection on 18th century social life is delivered to near perfection in this traditional revival, directed by Jamie Lloyd.
A classic British comedy of manners, Sheridan parodies the excesses and lays bare the hypocrisy of the apparent social standards of the time. “Tale bearers are as bad as tale makers,” one of the early characters, Lady Candour, advises her companions at least three times. At the same time as passing on the most salacious gossip concerning possible scandals of her hosts, even when they are still in the room.
Sheridan does little to disguise his contempt for those involved in such damaging scandal mongering but he does it with enviable wit. Even his characters have thinly disguised names Lady Candour is anything but; we also have Backbite, Lady Sneerwell, Snake, even a money lender called Mr Premium.
Sheridan’s sharp dialogue is delivered by the cast to near perfection to produce an enormously fun, witty and invigorating production which has the audience thoroughly engaged and joining on all the laughs. There are a few stiff moments, but these are instantly forgotten as the production cracks on with great pace and humour. The visual jokes are a high point. The famous revelation of Lady Teazle hiding behind a screen is a hoot. Cleverly, the set has been arranged so the audience can enjoy the comedy of watching the servants listening at the doors.
Ian McNiece thoroughly enjoys himself as Sir Oliver Surface. Peter Laurenson is admirable as Sir Peter Teazle. Edward Bennet plays Joseph Surface, the evening’s cad, with slimy perfection. The best lines of the evening, however, are from Lady Candour, played by Maggie Steed, who delivers a great comic performance.
For a play written over 200 years ago the parallels with today’s celebrity culture and tabloid excesses cannot be missed. At the time of Sheridan’s writing there was little control of the press and the questionable behaviour of the ruling elite could be held up to ridicule. Sheridan points the finger at the culpability of all in the damage caused by spreading salacious gossip and the notorious behaviour of the reporters or gossipmongers. Indeed, throughout the play it often seems that all the characters have in common is tittle tattle and pursuit of fashion. It could be written for today but perhaps the wigs, waistcoats, powder and plumage would be a little different – imagine Lady Gaga at the Leveson inquiry then things may not be quite so out of place.