“There’s no possibility of being witty without a little ill-nature — the malice of a good thing is the barb that makes it stick” – LADY SNEERWELL
Deborah Warner’s interpretation of Sheridan’s most popular comedy, The School for Scandal juxtaposes his eighteenth-century context with a contemporary one. Warner pays her dues to Sheridan, whilst imbuing the play with modernity and lacing his dialogue with contemporary bearing. The vices of his characters are quite literally reflected onto the face of contemporary society in the opening catwalk. The fusion of Georgian style costume with the current fashion trend sets forth Warner’s intention to draw parallels between then and now. The scandals drink champagne, snort cocaine and indulge in the frivolity of fashion and hearsay, placing self-gratification at the forefront.
Bric-a-brac props and unfinished scenery leave the backstage unhidden and electro music is blasted in between scenes. The effect is a constant thrust of the audience, pushing us back into the role of spectator, forbidding us to escape into the melodrama of the performance and sharpening our senses in which to cast our self-conscious judgements and guffaws onto the stage. At this comfortable distance we are able to consider ourselves and are forbade entrance to a false moral high ground through submergence into the period. It’s quickly becomes apparent that idle gossip was compromising integrity and damaging relationships in the eighteenth-century in a very similar way that it does today.
Accused by many critics of ramming this analogy down our throats, the performance has been criticised by its brash and brazen approach. Warner rightfully defends her revival of Sheridan, stressing the need to engage with a new and younger audience, stating “Let the new get started. This work may be for them, not for you.” She neither dumbs-down nor edits Sheridan’s work, but simply injects it with modern day spunk! Infamous for her unorthodoxy and radical staging methods, surely these critics were naive to expect anything less than a challenging and biting performance? In a society that’s chained to the hems of social networking and avid gossip, one is allowed, no, encouraged to believe in the contrived notion of the importance of the individual. Our desire to know it all runs hand in hand with one’s (supposedly) inherent right to inflict opinion on it all. We no longer need our most trusted friends to give way to witty quips and dubious gossips – what’s the need when we can post it on our twitter for all the world to see? Today, the indispensability of information is synonymous to its disposability and Warner sheds new light on the danger and damage of such trivial pursuits.
The School for Scandal is showing at The Barbican Theatre until the 18th of June – Tickets are still available!