How entirely appropriate that 45 years after Richard Nixon’s scandalous behaviour forced him to resign the Presidency, that the opening week of the Stratford Festival concluded with Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s pillory of lies, deceit, malice, fake news and false fronts, proving yet again that nothing much has really been learned since its première in 1777.
Director Antoni Cimolino added a few touches to bind the study of social mores across the centuries, slipping in a Sean Spicer reference, clever mute-the-cellphones device in the prologue and several projections (courtesy of Nick Bottomley) from time to time (e.g., #Scandal) to reinforce the universality of the material.
Designer Julie Fox’s sumptuous sets contributed much period detail and sense of grandeur to the apartments of the privileged (Cimolino deftly employing front-of-the-walls scenes to keep the pace afoot while sound designer Thomas Ryder Payne smartly reworked parts of Berthold Carrière’s score for The Beggar’s Opera into the mix that convinced with every bar).
The cast dug deep into the biting satire with gritty determination to make all of the lies, innuendos, role-playing, reconciliation and comeuppance ring as true as most of their actions were false.
The gaggle of gossips and rumourmongers had completely believable advocates led by Maev Beaty’s haughtier-than-thou Lady Sneerwell, Brigit Wilson’s take on the Queen of Dirt, Mrs. Candour (even drawing a laugh being seated) along with Conehead Sir Benjamin Backbite, revelling as they cast false aspersions on everyone else but themselves.
With a twinkle in his eye and delivery, Geraint Wyn Davies was a hoot in the catalytic role of Sir Peter Teazle while his young-enough-to-be-his-daughter—delighted to spend her husband’s fortune—and a most worthy, catty-as-required wife, positively revelling in tormenting her hubby then stoically wearing humiliation thanks to Shannon Taylor’s marvellous range and sense of timing.
Incredibly, Joseph Ziegler played his mirror opposite from yesterday’s title role in Timon of Athens as if he’d never been near Shakespeare’s seldom-performed misanthropic play, bringing Sir Oliver Surface to vigorous life while teaching his disingenuous nephews how to behave themselves.
The two brothers had worthy champions as Tyrone Savage readily oozed slime from every pore even as Sébastien Heins played the unrepentant playboy with a sense of—eventually—doing the right thing with style and aplomb.
Come for the laughs and savour the outrageous fun, but then step back into reality where systemic deception continues to gain ground. JWR