Barbican Theatre, London EC2
Opened 18 December, 2000

Lindsay Posner's RSC revival of Sheridan's classic 1775 comedy is perfectly agreeable. This is faint praise, and deliberately so.

The production looks pretty, with a group of six-foot town houses trundled around the stage to indicate various locations in fashionable Bath and opened up for use as props trunks, and with the mock proscenium arch to emphasise the artificiality of the action. It is played well by its principal actors Benjamin Whitrow, who has cornered the market in articulately irascible old gents, as Sir Anthony Absolute; David Tennant, who is becoming a master of a certain kind of comedy-of-manners roles, as his stratagem-playing son Jack; and the excellent Wendy Craig as Mrs Malaprop, whose verbal infelicities have become so legendary that on several occasions the audience laughs at words that aren't actually misused but just exuberant period turns of phrase. There are certainly enough laughs in its three-hour length. But there is no sign that the play is anything but a well-wrought divertissement, no indication of Sheridan's more mordant social observations or his parody of his own early life story. It is, to use the family name of the brothers from the author's The School For Scandal, all Surface.

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Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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