The School for Scheming

  • Theatre
  • Drama
Critics' choice
1/7
© Robert Day

'The School for Scheming'

2/7
© Robert Day

'The School for Scheming'

3/7
© Robert Day

'The School for Scheming'

4/7
© Robert Day

'The School for Scheming'

5/7
© Robert Day

'The School for Scheming'

6/7
© Robert Day

'The School for Scheming'

7/7
© Robert Day

'The School for Scheming'

Money makes the world go round: so thinks 90 percent of the characters in Dion Boucicault’s 1847 comedy. They’re all either rolling in it, coveting it or dealing in it. And though all this hard cash is certainly making their lives spin, it’s also making things rather unbearable.

Irish writer, actor and impresario Boucicault was a big name on the British and American theatre scene in the mid-to-late-1800s and though this play is clearly of its time, Auriol Smith’s punchy production reveals some pertinent parallels with our own obsession with wealth.

Boucicault’s running theme is money’s corrupting influence. The promise of moolah drives the young, honest Helen Plantaganet’s choice of husband, because her father is in atrocious debt. Though she loves a penniless young man, she plumps for the idiotic buffoon, purely because he is loaded and a duke. Cue crossed wires and hilarious back-tracking, and everyone is left at odds until a year goes by, when things are miraculously resolved.

The end is all a little too quaint, but nevertheless Boucicault’s quick wit and well-written comic characters shine. Here’s a play that looks intelligently and concisely at the value of love and the greed of human beings, whilst rampantly taking the piss out of everyone on the way. The dirty truth that Claude Plantaganet is willing to sacrifice his daughter’s happiness to get himself out of a fix threads itself throughout the action: ‘Money maketh the man,’ says mysterious moneylender XY…  and it doesn’t necessarily make him very nice.

There are sharp asides aplenty which are used to good effect in Smith’s production, so we’re gloriously in the know while the characters stagger blindly into their terrible pickles. The cast never stray too far into over-the-top caricature (which the script does lend itself to) and keep things fresh and fun throughout. Imogen Sage is a poised and delicate Helen, while Paul Shelley is so raffishly charming as Claude we forgive all by the end.

Money doesn’t grow on trees, but it’s worth parting with a little of your hard-earned coppers to catch this one.

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