This production looks great, which is appropriate for a play concerned with the appearance of things: several of its central characters are called Surface, after all.
The Park Theatre’s main space – itself still looking pretty brand-spanking new, just a month after its opening – has been transformed by designer Simon Kenny into an eighteenth-century drawing room. The gilt and pastel blues suggest a Fabergé egg: like Sheridan’s 1777 comedy, a beautiful exterior that conceals a hollow heart.
Director Jessica Swale has previously proved adept at bringing Sheridan’s work bang up to date, or at least rejoicing in anachronisms: her acclaimed 2010 production of ‘The Rivals’ at Southwark Playhouse kicked off with a rejigged version of ‘Single Ladies’ by Beyoncé. Disappointingly, no similar pop homages occur here (surely ‘Read All About It’ by Emeli Sandé would have been the obvious choice?). But original songs by Laura Forrest-Hay punctuate the action, though not very successfully: the backing track sounds off-puttingly computerised.
The production as a whole, too, still needs time to bed in and the action loses clarity in some of the more convoluted twists of Sheridan’s plot. But there are several standout performances – particularly from Michael Bryher as a camply simpering Benjamin Backbite, Tom Berish as a suave Joseph Surface, and Kirsty Besterman as an arch Lady Teazle. And the programme, published as an eighteenth-century gossip rag, ‘The Daily Sneer’, deserves a special mention for being the most amusing I’ve seen in a long while.
By Laura Barnett