Sheridan’s focus on the damaging effects of press gossip and personal debt makes his comedy of manners almost a play for today. But Harry Meacher’s revival of this rarely-seen masterpiece is set in a 1920s art deco world of cocktails and campery, evoked by Yvonne Fisher’s stylish design.
The evening starts with a typical Meacher touch; a tableau scene during which Johnathan O’Boyle’s Surface – a smooth, sexy hypocrite in conversation with Nikki Kelly’s tall, elegant Lady Sneerwell – quietly moves between the static, unheedingly figures of heiress Maria (Miranda Nolan) and his generous but profligate brother Charles (Nick Meadows). This swiftly establishes the basic plot, but soon the scandalmongers make their entrance and it becomes repeatedly side-lined by alcoholic orgies, gabbled lines and overemphasis.
Luckily the evening is saved by a touching domestic relationship, played for real by Brian E. Cook as the ageing Sir Peter Teazle, and his young wife, the delicious Linette Beaumont as a provincial girl, now grown accustomed to her husband’s wealth and to metropolitan morality. But her affair with Surface is surely made more explicit that Sheridan intended.
There is also excellent work by Seamus Newham as Sir Oliver, expatriate uncle to the Surface brothers, now on home leave to check out which should become his heir. And among his several strongly played encounters is a cleverly comic Gallery scene in which the servants don wigs and frame their faces to represent the family portraits being sold off – an ingenious solution perhaps worth noting for future revivals.