The School For Scandal – April 2015

Experience: 10/10

By Richard Brinsley Sheridan, with additions by Dominic Power

Directed by Andrew Hilton

Company: Shakespeare At The Tobacco Factory

Venue: Tobacco Factory

Date: Wednesday 15th April 2015

Brilliant from beginning to end. Probably the best production of this play we’re likely to see. And we’ve only booked for one viewing – drat! And this was an early performance, so it’s bound to get even better despite such a short run – double drat!

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The Rivals – February 2011


By: Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Director: Peter Hall

Venue: Theatre Royal, Haymarket

Date: Saturday 19th February 2011

Bit disappointing, this. The set was fantastic, all in cream, with a marvellous trompe l’oie curve of Georgian rooftops in a crescent above the flat back wall, which had a magnificent central door, and two smaller doors to either side. Exits and entrances could also be made directly from the wings, and the curve of the rooftops came forward to yet another Simon Higlett picture frame, about halfway up the stage. In front of this were two elaborate doors, one on each side, and I did finally notice a beautiful parquet oval in the floor. So the location was abundantly clear, and with the extra furniture brought on and off (by liveried servants to boot), and wonderful costumes, there was plenty to enjoy visually.

This version of the play was an amalgam of the three ‘original’ versions, and while it was coherent, it did feel a bit minimalist at times. However, we got a fuller Mrs Malaprop than usual, which in this case was a real treat. Perhaps just shaded by my memories of Stephanie Cole’s portrayal, Penelope Keith did a fine job of getting across her character’s misuse of the English language, and I’m sure there were several instances which I’d never heard before. Peter Bowles was entertaining as Sir Anthony Absolute – not as physical as some we’ve seen, but he conveyed the changes of mood very nicely. The servants, Fag and Lucy were splendid, and I’ve often thought the servants’ parts are some of the best in the Restoration Comedies.

The main problems I found today were the weakness of the romantic leads, and the lack of a brisk pace to keep the energy up. It’s a problem with Peter Hall’s directorial style now that his productions are a lot less physical, and this can make things a bit dull, although there’s no doubt the language comes across brilliantly. Jack Absolute was played by Tam Williams, and seemed a bit weak. Lydia Languish was played by Robyn Addison, making her professional stage debut, and was sadly wooden and inexpressive. Annabel Scholey was fine as Julia, although Tony Gardner, excellent in other stage comedies we’ve seen, was rather dull as Faulkland. Gerard Murphy was good as Sir Lucius O’Trigger, but had relatively little to do, and I did like Keiron Self as Bob Acres, the unsuccessful suitor to Lydia, who manages to avoid a duel, but not the makeover from a tailor.

I still enjoyed seeing the play again – it’s a total classic – but I wouldn’t recommend the production as the best I’ve seen. Perhaps they’re just getting a bit jaded towards the end of their run.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at

The Critic – July 2010


By R B Sheridan

Directed by Jonathan Church and Sean Foley

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Monday 5th July 2010

Second play of the double bill, this wasn’t quite as sparkly as I remembered from the National production, where the collapsing scenery at the end was massively impressive. To be fair, this is a smaller theatre and Health and Safety would probably be a bit squeamish about putting the audience at risk, but even so the theatrical effects were still pretty good. I liked the waves and ships, and the final falling wall providing a Buster Keaton moment was good fun. The costumes were spot on, literally in some cases, and the dialogue was pretty good, although Sheridan can be pretty impenetrable at times to the modern ear.

Again, I found Nicholas Le Provost’s delivery less clear than the others, but overall the performances were fine, with Una Stubbs again turning in a superb performance as the largely unspeaking maid.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at

A Trip To Scarborough – January 2008


Variations on the original play by R B Sheridan (itself an adaptation of The Relapse by Vanburgh, itself an adaptation/sequel to a play by Colley Cibber) written and updated by Alan Ayckbourn

Directed by Alan Ayckbourn

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Monday 28th January 2008

And what a wonderful trip to Scarborough this was! The blending of the various time settings was pure Ayckbourn, and the “original” 1800 stuff sparkled like a jewel against the more modern scenes. All the long-windedness trimmed down to a few vital (in both senses of the word) scenes, and some comic set pieces by a modern master as well – what joy.

The two later time periods – 1942 and this year – are set in the Royal Hotel, Scarborough, and the action take places in the foyer. There are a couple of hotel servants, Gander and Pestle, who shift between times zones like experienced Time Lords, although they’re not required much in the 1800 scenes. The 1800 scenes are in a mixture of rooms, but as the present day hotel is hosting a fancy dress party, with 19th century period costume, this makes for some entertaining possibilities, and is obviously easier on the cast, as they don’t have to keep rushing backstage to get changed.

The 1800 scenes were a very trimmed down version of a play that has already been through various versions. They mainly occurred in the second half, although the start of the play showed us Hoyden sitting on the steps, holding a doll. Lord Foppington is due to marry Hoyden, the daughter of a Yorkshire gentleman, but his impecunious younger brother gets there first, pretends to be Lord Foppington, and gets the girl. To be fair, he did ask his brother for money first, and if he’d come through for him, then the risky marriage would have been off, but the Lord isn’t one for giving money away needlessly to his family, when he could give it away needlessly to his tailor, wig-maker, etc. (Actually, they didn’t bother with wigs in this production – I suspect it would have been too much to do in the quick changes.)

This story is echoed in the modern scenes, where a valuable manuscript is being sold by the daughter of a wealthy local knight, Sir George Tunberry, without his knowledge, and the dealer, Lance Foppington, is having to fend off the attentions of another young dealer, John Townly, who’s threatening to spill the beans. There’s also a couple of young businessmen staying in the hotel. They’re supposed to be in Aberdeen, at a conference, but they’ve skived off to have some fun in Scarborough instead. One of them spends his time talking to his family on his mobile, pretending to be at the conference, while the other has been caught by his girlfriend having sex with her sister, and now his entire family are giving him earache about it.

In 1942, there’s a regular shindig going on off stage, as some of the pilots are drinking to celebrate a successful mission, except it turns out one of them has been grounded. There’s a mother and daughter also staying at the hotel – the mother has recently lost her husband, and the daughter’s husband is MIA. The main storyline for this period, though, is the mysterious wife swap that one of the guests has done, starting out with wife A, then bringing wife B back from the theatre, and finally reappearing with wife A again. What can this mean? Pestle and Gander are determined to find out, which they do, but sadly without persuading wife B she’s in danger.

All these stories were nicely interwoven, and it was remarkably easy to tell which period we were in. Lighting helped, and the costumes of course. There was a band for the party who gave us music throughout, appropriate to the time zone we were in, and joined in some of the dialogue. The best bits for me were the three airmen giving us their impression of the Andrews sisters (well worth the price of admission alone), Gander’s explanation for deciding to shout “corporal” at wife B (she’s too young to be a sergeant, too intelligent to be a private, and too good-looking to be an officer), and the final revelations in the original time zone, with Lord Foppington getting his comeuppance, and his brother getting a wife.

As usual, this was a good ensemble performance, but I did enjoy some parts a little more than others. I was interested to see Ben Lambert playing the various incarnations of John Townly; he was in French Without Tears last February, standing in at short notice for another actor, and did a very good job. He was fine here, allowing for the fact that his Scottish accent in the early stages was meant to be terrible. Richard Stacey as the penniless brother, the grounded Flight Lieutenant, and one of the modern businessmen, was amazing as the lead Andrews sister, and gave a good account of the 1800s stuff. They were all allowed to really mug up their asides to the audience, and they made full use of it. And Terence Booth, who also stepped in last year to help out in If I Were You, another Ayckbourn, gave us a fine pair of comedy villains in Lord Foppington and his degenerate descendant Lance Foppington, the crooked dealer, slipping in a cameo as Len “the spiv” Foppington just for good measure.

It’s hard to put any more detail to this now, as it all blends together so quickly in my mind. We would have seen this again at the Connaught if we’d had a free night, but as it is, we’re glad we’re saw it last night.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at

Pizarro – July 2006

Experience: 3/10

By R B Sheridan

Directed by Lucy Pitman-Wallace

Venue: Olivier Theatre

Date: Wednesday 12th July 2006

This was a rehearsed reading of a late play by RBS, the only play he wrote after starting his political career. It was based on a German play, and apparently he followed it very closely, whether translating it himself or from a translation, I don’t know.

This reading was put on to tie up with the production of Royal Hunt of the Sun (seen earlier), and a few of the actors came from that production. In fact, the actor playing Pizarro today was the understudy we had seen before, which made it all the more interesting. It was hard to hear all of the actors, as some of them didn’t seem to realise they had to project as much as if it were a regular performance, and in the vastness of the Olivier a lot of the dialogue was lost. We weren’t as close to the action as in, say, the Swan, so that added to the problem.

The dialogue was interesting. RBS is a wordy chap, and although this isn’t a comedy, the same style showed through, and the speeches sometimes seemed overlong. I suspect the rehearsal period wasn’t very long either, as the minimal amount of action didn’t always add to the experience. However, it was still good to see this play, even with these difficulties, as we’re unlikely to see a full performance.

This play seems to be less about Pizarro than his ex-lieutenant who’s gone native, literally. He’s become the native population’s military commander in their resistance to the Spanish conquest, and the play focuses on his rivalry with another native warrior who thinks he should get the job instead. People get captured, released, captured, etc., and there’s a lot of talk about the politics and inhumanity of the situation, with some effort to include the personal feelings as well. Pizarro’s wife, Elvira, also features strongly. She was keen to marry Pizarro at first because she thought his escapades so glorious, but as she saw what was really happening, she came to despise him and his work. Interesting ideas, and I would still  like to see a proper version some time, if we ever get the chance.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at