Get ready for the “School of Mock” in Stratford!

Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1777 comedy The School For Scandal is given a 2017 updated social media trim (complete with projection of tweet zings) on the elegant period sets. This one is an absolute must-see at this year’s Stratford Festival

As always, Antoni Cimolino directs with intelligence and passion.

He knows gossip is a plague then and now. Only the “De Vizes” (as a projection puns) have changed with the gossip sheets of 1777, being replaced by Facebook etc.

Members of the company in The School for Scandal. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann

The ridicule starts with the great Geraint Wyn Davies (first as Prologue and then Sir Peter Teazle) posting a massive selfie on the set. But the sweetest moments of The School For Scandal unfold as Sir Peter and his new and much younger wife (Shannon Taylor, also excellent as Olivia in Twelfth Night) realize their love is real. That romantic revelation would only have been possible because of the gossip-ridden plotting around them.

The plot(ting) thickens!

Such plotting is almost impossible to sum up, which may be the point Sheridan and Cimolino are making about gossip. In all the twists and turns laughs arrive from such schemers as Lady Sneerwell (Maev Beaty), the feuding Surface brothers (Tyrone Savage and Sebastien Heins), Sir Benjamin Backbite (Tom Rooney in a Conehead-tall wig), Mrs. Candour (Brigit Wilson in a skirt so massive chairs eject her) and Snake (Anusree Roy as a genius at faking news).

From left: Brigit Wilson as Mrs. Candour, Tom Rooney as Sir Benjamin Backbite and Rod Beattie as Crabtree in The School for Scandal. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann

But for all that fro and to, what counts is the Teazle truce. A witty gag in Sir Peter’s last words (as Cimolino splits a line about their future) produces huge laughs. Lady Teazle’s loving farewell to the audience is the final lesson.

Why should you go?

You don’t want to miss The School For Scandal because:

The 90 minutes of slow, first-half setup are redeemed by a second half of fast and furious farcejoy… true love makes gossip its b*tch! Plus, you get to experience the birth of modern comedy. Reading the play beforehand will help identify the 26 characters.

The School For Scandal, Stratford Festival 2017
Tyrone Savage as Joseph Surface and Shannon Taylor as Lady Teazle in The School for Scandal. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann

If you pre-read, you’ll appreciate the way Sheridan’s anti-Semitic rants have been trimmed. So, there’s a big positive! 

Skip it if…

You might want to skip The School for Scandal if:

Watching HGTV’s Property Brothers for 30 minutes is much more your jam than engaging with the Surface brothers over three witty and whimsical hours.

London does Stratford:

Inevitable #ldnont connections:

London theatre ace actor-director-designer and Festival staff member Kaitlyn Rietdyk looks smashing as a maid. Among her recent accomplishments on the London stage is her direction of Twelfth Night for the London Community Players. Her words about Shakespeare (quoted by LFP great Joe Belanger) also apply to Sheridan.  

She said “every time a Shakespearean production is mounted, people always wonder if it is still relevant. Twelfth Night is about trying to find one’s way in a new world. It’s about disguising one’s true self and doing whatever it takes to survive when the world around you is going mad. Looking at it from the lens of 2017, this play is more applicable than ever before. Mounting this show on the main stage at the Palace allows us the freedom to heighten the scope of the production, but at its core, the play is about those tiny, emotional journeys we all make as we navigate through our own shifting realities.”

Stratford festival
Geraint Wyn Davies, Shannon Taylor. Photography by Lynda Churilla.

As company members in the cast are former Grand Theatre  stars Rod Beattie (getting spiteful laughs as Crabtree) and Brent Carver (as Rowley, an honest character amid the gossip manufacturers)… Western’s Don Wright music faculty Wall-of-Famer Berthold Carriere composed, conducted, and keyboarded the score.

So, there you have it, many reasons to get yourself there. We could all use a little more scandal in our lives…

The School For Scandal opened Saturday June 3 at the Avon Theatre and runs until Oct. 21. Visit stratfordfestival.ca for details.

James Stewart Reaney keeps James’s Brander Newer Blogger at LondonFuse.ca as part of his volunteerism and reverence for London A&E. He recently retired from The London Free Press after more than 30 years covering everything from A — The Alcohollys — to B: baseball’s 1986 World Series. Follow his Twitter #ldnont thoughts via @JamesSReaney

Feature photo by Lynda Churilla

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