Essays and Criticism
Viewing a Production of School for Scandal: Merits and Cultural Problems
I often tell my students that a play needs to be seen and heard to be properly appreciated. Reading a play requires an ability to visualize, and it is very difficult to manage this visualization without a careful scrutiny of the stage directions and some experience reading drama. This notion is especially true for Richard Brinsley Sheridan's School for Scandal, which makes the reader wish for a fine production to view.
In the fourth act when Lady Teazle and Sir Peter are each peeking out of their respective hiding places, and Joseph is cautioning each to retreat, the reader can only imagine the fun occurring on stage. But when the screen falls later in that same act and Lady Teazle is exposed, this bit of slapstick demands to be seen. Mark S. Auburn related in Sheridan Studies that anyone passing by the theatre during that scene would have heard the riotous laughter of the audience that erupted from the theatre. This type of comedy was an early inspiration for the silly situation comedies that are a staple of television viewing; but if this play is so funny, why is it so infrequently staged?
Some critics suggest that the language is stilted or the subject matter not topical. When Peter Wood was interviewed about his 1990 production of...
(The entire section is 1494 words.)
Review of The School for Scandal
As conceived by Robin Phillips, The School for Scandal displays a harsh and glittering world of exquisite beauty and viciousness, where sentimental sobriety—when genuine—is the only refuge from the savagery that lies in wait for vitality and virtue. Phillips has read the play as a piece of serious social criticism, with decidedly mixed results: his version of this classic comedy of manners is thought-provoking, visually stunning, but finally a failure.
Sheridan wittily exhibits the machinations of the hypocritical Joseph Surface, who joins with the malicious Lady Sneerwell in a campaign of slander originally designed to obtain his uncle Oliver's fortune and the hand of the wealthy Maria by the destruction of his brother Charles's reputation, but which eventually expands to threaten the marriage of Sir Peter and Lady Teazle. In his program note, Phillips emphasizes the importance of reputation in a mercantile society, where to lose respectability is literally to lose "credit." In such an environment, the power of Lady Sneerwell and her "scandalous college" of gossips is no laughing matter, and Phillips's production takes its tone from the seriousness of their crime. The characterizations are subdued, the comedy is underplayed: the audience is never allowed to forget that the events it is witnessing could end as easily in suffering as in happiness.
Flamboyant performances are therefore the rare exception in this School. As...
(The entire section is 1056 words.)
Review of The School for Scandal
To a writer a theatre like the Royal Lyceum is a magic box full of enticing possibilities—to all of which, almost invariably, you are denied access. To an Artistic Director, on the other hand, such a place must more often feel like a black hole—with row after row of empty seats that somehow, night after night, have got to be filled.
The theatre's understandable response to this has been to mount two classic comedies in repertory—a revival of their immensely successful production of Tartuffe in tandem with a new production of Sheridan's School for Scandal.
This opened recently to an almost uniformly hostile press, which the production did not really deserve. The Lyceum tends to open with a cheerful free preview and follow it with a press night that almost always falls flat; a strongly self-destructive process to which this in many respects perfectly acceptable show has also fallen victim.
Colin MacNeil's set is an elegant and serviceable rectangular box, fronted by a row of footlights, that neatly and effectively conjures up a feeling of the period; the cast are splendidly bewigged and crinolined; the show looks good, and by the end had enough basic buoyancy to it to ensure that the very special magic exerted by so beautifully structured a comedy would work on its audience.
The basic groundwork was all in place; the show's problems arose because somehow hardly...
(The entire section is 557 words.)
Elegantly on the Harpsichord
The School for Scandal, by Richard Brinsley Sheridan is a kind of dramatic harpsichord. It has surface vivacity rather than inner strength. It has elegance of style rather than profundity of substance. Thumped by realism's heavy hand, it would jangle and go mute; stroked with exquisite artifice, it enchants and amuses. The present import from Britain, top-starring Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson, is iridescently enchanting, contagiously amusing.
Gielgud is Joseph Surface, the hypocrite as moral snob, a kind of holier-than-thou heel. Richardson is Sir Peter Teazle, a crusty, crestfallen bridegroom in his 50s, loving, but not loved by, young Lady Teazle (Geraldine McEwan), a predatory country kitten so sure of her city ways that her voice seems to be crunching canary-brittle. The ostensible question is: Will Lady Teazle cuckold Sir Peter with Joseph? But Sheridan is less concerned with virtue in peril than with vice masquerading as virtue. In the famously comic screen scene, when Lady Teazle is finally discovered by Sir Peter in Joseph's library, it is not her folly that is impugned and exposed but Joseph's bad character. All high comedy is a deliberately moral unmasking of moral pretense, the ultimate poseur being Society itself.
What Gielgud the director brings to The School for Scandal is a sense of how the play traps constancy of man's frivolity...
(The entire section is 306 words.)