Review: The School for Scandal (until July 5 at CBC 700)


With Bard on the Beach, Vancouverites are accustomed to seeing Shakespeare plays cast in a new place and time that Shakespeare himself could not have imagined. Why shouldn’t the same be done with other plays?

Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1777 play, The School for Scandal, has been adapted for a new time and place by playwright Matthew Willis, keeping the vast majority of the dialogue (lightly updated) and almost all of the storylines. The place is Vancouver, and the time is approximately now. The production is by NOW! Theatre and the Quimera Theatre Collective.

Miss Sneerwell is now the proprietor of a Yaletown yoga studio, which, at her encouragement, is filled with treacherous gossips. They, like many people today, are consumed with the pursuit of money and self-indulgence. I had read this play aeons ago in school, but you might like to read the Wikipedia synopsis in advance, despite the spoilers, so you can better follow the action.

These events are no less real than a “Real Housewives of Vancouver” episode (my guess, as I’ve never seen one).

In discussion with a fellow attendee, we talked about how current production standards oriented to a short attention span tend to work against any sort of elaborate setup. We want things to happen–now. Spending more than an hour introducing the characters and the basic intrigues may feel too laborious to some, although absolutely expected in 1777. But the action picks up in the second half, as the spun intrigues start to unravel.

The use of possibly feigned love (romantic or familial) as a means to obtain fortune is a long-enduring theme probably older than Homo sapiens. Gossip and backbiting are scarcely new either. In that sense, the juxtaposition of an 18th-century story with contemporary staging works. The part that did not feel quite at ease about this transition was that 18th-century upper-class English society involved significantly more formality than typical Vancouverites demonstrate.

Truthfully, few Vancouverites are as funny as this group, either. The portrayals of hipster poets transfer very well. The yoga and yoga instruction is done terrifically well, and is almost like a dance performance. There are some disguises that seem outlandish, but this play was never meant to be starkly realistic, even in 1777.

Perhaps we all have some anxiety about humor. As stated by Verjuice Sneerwell, “It is impossible to be witty without a little ill-nature.” There’s not a single character who can be seen as honorable in general, although there are a few honorable moments.

With simple sets, the different locales in the play are portrayed very well. The fashion choices are perfect. Come to this play prepared to enjoy a drink and allow the tale to unfold at its leisurely pace.

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