Dominic Power has not only adapted the text but added a prologue and epilogue that underline the play’s contemporary relevance. It opens in a salon of gossip, so how much more appropriate could it be to these days of “reality celebrities” and “selfies”?
The in-the-round auditorium is perfectly suited to the swirling, sprouting and ever expanding nature of gossip, as new visitors add new details to every story, regardless of either veracity or effect.
Lady Sneerwell (Julia Hills) is at the centre of the dis-ease, but she has her own lustful agenda, hardly suspected by her toadying crony Mr Snake (a marvellously unctuous performance by SatTF regular Paul Currier), the foppish Sir Benjamin Backbite and his nasty and slightly deaf uncle Crabtree.
Sir Peter Teazle, a confirmed old Batchelor, has married a young wife from the country. Far from being simple, she’s running him ragged and penurious in London society, but she DOES have a heart of gold, and it shines through in the end.
Sir Peter also has a ward, Maria, in love with the wayward younger Surface brother, Charles, while the dyspeptic Sir Peter favours his hypocritical older brother, Joseph.
Intrigue follows intrigue in his hilarious snapshot of a society which might have been the precursor to modern celebrity culture.
Andrew Hilton’s detailed and delightful direction brings out the best in an exceptional ensemble, many of whom were recently seen in Romeo and Juliet at the Bedminster venue, and will continue on tour with the Shakespeare play at the end of the Sheridan run on 9th May.
Byron Mondahl, who came from his South African home to study at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and hasn’t been back since, is the perfect Backbite, and it is to him that the witty prologue is given, with its Sheridanian style warning to turn off your mobile phone!
Another SatTF regular, Christopher Bianchi, is a marvellously loveable Sir Peter, and Paapa Essiedu, Romeo in the first play of the season, relishes his chance to dissemble as Joseph Surface.
Do go and see this hilarious play, and don’t forget to look in your own 21st century mirror for the likeness.