Review: The School for Scandal, Park Theatre ✭✭✭

At first glance The School For Scandal appears to have all the ingredients for a top of the class performance, but unfortunately the production frequently fails to fulfil its vast potential. Simon Kenny’s set design is versatile and uncluttered leaving plenty of room for the large cast to strut their way around the stage, while Fiona Russell’s costume design is a delight, with each character decked in their finery, the stage is dressed for success.

To cap it off Jessica Swale’s direction admirably manages to deliver all the elements we get from much more well funded institutions who enjoy longer rehearsals periods, albeit in a slightly less polished fashion. Her ensemble sing, dance and promenade around the stage. And with such a promising array of talent in the cast, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a home run. But sadly The School for Scandal falls flat on too many occasions. It lacks energy, pace and commitment. Regularly the cast labour on the text as if it were a period drama and not a comic farce. Indeed they often rely so much on the wit and humour in the text to do the work, that they seem completely disassociated from it.

Michael Bryher and Russell Bentley make a fantastic double act

That said it does have some wonderful moments. Michael Bryher and Russell Bentley make a fantastic double act, and the only time the stage seems full of energy or excitement is when these two get together. The opening of the second act allows them to flourish their skill and confidence with a little audience interaction. In fact Bryher presents such a colourful and rich character in Benjamin Backbite, always bordering on grotesque satire but never falling into absurdity. He relishes the material and brings a dynamism to his character that is lacking in the rest of the cast.

The School for Scandal is a grade A example of a show whose potential outweighs its reality, and it never capitalises on the skills of its performers. For all its wit and intellect it neglects theatricality, verve, energy and satire, in favour of pathos and sentimentality. Swale proves herself capable of tackling text in performance but fails to break new ground or take any risks. As a consequence the play is entertaining but uninspired.

***(3 stars)
Runs until 7th July
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