After eight years under the aegis of Sir Peter Hall, the baton of responsibility for the high-profile summer season at the Theatre Royal Bath has passed to the in-house production company. Wisely, they have settled on an accessible programme and a strong team of guest directors, led off by Jamie Lloyd with his uncomplicated version of this 18th century upper class caper, starting in slow burn mode but gathering hilarious pace from the concealment scene onwards.
Zoe Rainey (Maria), Grant Gillespie (Sir Benjamin Backbite) and Maggie Steed (Mrs Candour) in The School for Scandal at Theatre Royal, Bath Photo: Johan Persson
Apart from Deborah Warner`s controversial Brechtian production at the Barbican last year, this is the first major revival of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s satire on society tittle-tattle and domestic strife for 10 years. Lloyd and his experienced cast frolic through the intricate plot with perfect timing, homing in on the central theme of a marriage placed more under threat by scandalous gossip than the considerable age gap between husband and wife.
Sir Peter Teazle, a rather low key James Laurenson, hopes for a quiet life with Susannah Fielding’s spirited young country wife, but finds her all too easily led astray by the scandal-mongering of Maggie Steed’s knowing Mrs Candour and Serena Evans’ self-serving widow Lady Sneerwell. Add in the intricate love and legacy sub-plot involving Edward Bennett’s splendidly hypocritical Joseph Surface, his handsome playboy brother Charles (Nigel Harman), their rich uncle Sir Oliver (Ian McNeice) and Zoe Rainey’s gossip-hating Maria, and Lloyd demonstrates that there is absolutely no need to dress this classic comedy of manners in modern garb.
With Antony Sher in Terry Johnson’s Hysteria, and Adrian Noble directing Tim Pigott-Smith in The Tempest, still to come, Bath is set for a summer where the theatrical living is easy.