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  • Miles Hedley

THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL & LOVE’S LABOURS LOST at Severndroog Castle


Changeling Theatre’s much-loved annual summer tour once again included two open-air nights in the magical setting of the woods that surround Severndroog Castle.


Previously the company has performed one comedy and one tragedy, a combination guaranteed to plumb every corner of the human psyche and thus appeal to every taste.


This year, however, there were two out-and-out comedies – Sheridan’s riotous satire of social mores The School For Scandal and Shakespeare’s early work Love’s Labours Lost.


I can’t praise director Rob Forknall’s production of The School For Scandal too highly. It helps, of course that the play is a dazzlingly constructed satire of the ludicrous social mores of 18th century England with all its odious cant, malevolent gossip, heartless game-playing, ruthless egotism and hierarchical incompetence.


But even a great play needs a great cast and Forknall’s company were absolutely at the top of their game.


Jonathan Cobb as a high priest of hypocrisy and Tom Dean as his profligate but good-hearted brother who loves Sir Peter Teazle’s ward Maria (Millicent Bevan, faultless) found exactly the right balance to keep their rather OTT characters believable.


Sam Claridge was spot-on as their rich and cruelly misled uncle who turns into an avenging angel when his eyes are finally opened to the truth.


Brayden Emmanuel camped it up wonderfully as the oleaginous tittle-tattler Snake and Simon Yadoo was tremendous as Sir Peter, the ageing husband of a young wife (Freya Stephenson) who found himself both infuriated and intoxicated by her flirtatious charms.


She, meanwhile, was in cahoots with the eponymous school for scandal whose sole raisin d’être and, indeed, pleasure was to disrupt the lives of everyone around them.


Stephenson’s petulant child-bride act was a delight and I also loved Annabelle Blake as gormless gossip Mrs Candour.


But the real star of this production was Kathryn Perkins as the loathsome, scheming Lady Sneerwell. She brilliantly channeled her inner Lily Savage to give flesh and very funny bones to a character who is the perfect definition of a grotesque.


It was a glorious creation – and a glorious way to spend a warm August evening in a glorious setting.


Twenty-four hours earlier the same company had given us Love’s Labours Lost in rather less balmy circumstances because most of the play was performed in a downpour.


Yet despite being soaked to the skin the actors never missed a beat as they spoke, danced, clowned and sang original songs - by James Aburn and lyricist Joe Roberts - as as if their very lives depended on it. It was a heroic display.


I was particularly struck by Tom Dean. He was making his professional debut yet managed to steal the show as Berowne thanks to a winning combination of technical skill and personal charisma.


That said, it’s easy to see why this play is so rarely performed these days. The characters mostly declaim rather than converse, the plotting is bonkers, the mournfulness of the ending is completely out of place and the comedy is too often clunky.


I’ve always thought comedy should be played straight and the more madcap the comedy, the more geometrically precise the straightness needs to be. Changeling decided to add an extra layer of farce and slapstick which for me amounted to a serious case of overegging the pudding.


My fellow audience members clearly didn’t agree, however – they revelled in the egginness and gave the cast a heartfelt ovation as they took their bows.


And I was more than happy to join in the applause because despite my reservations about the work itself, what we had witnessed was a fine company offering incontrovertible proof of the power of that great showbiz maxim: The show must go on.


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