Bawdy, immoral and populated with archetypal characters whose names define their background, status or role within the play, Restoration comedies were born out of the defiant return of theatre in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, following an 18-year ban under the Long Parliament. With live theatre effectively banned in 2020, albeit because of the pandemic rather than a Puritan government, it’s fitting (if a little quirky) that Bartlett has styled his latest satire as a homage to the movement.
Ami Okumura Jones and Chukwuma Omambala in Scandaltown. Photo: Marc Brenner
The plot of Scandaltown is intentionally crass and silly. Phoebe Virtue (Cecilia Appiah, in one of the most versatile performances in the show) leaves her Aunty Julie (a deadpan Emma Cunniffe) – who, like your stereotypical unsophisticated northerner, is sleeping with the local postman – to head to hedonistic London to rescue her twin brother Jack Virtue (a noteworthy professional debut from Guildhall grad Matthew Broome) who she fears has succumbed to a rakish life of snorting cocaine and reading The Daily Telegraph.
Elsewhere, Hannah Tweetwell (a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing performance from Aysha Kala) is plotting to get Lady Susan Climber (Rachael Stirling, bringing much of the show’s energy) cancelled for good, but not before luring her into an affair with Matt Eton (a wickedly funny Richard Goulding), who is modelled on a certain former Health Secretary, but here is also exploring his repressed homosexuality and dabbling in socialism.
Disguises are donned and deceptions ensue, resulting in a great muddle of mistaken identity and a slightly tedious big reveal in a meandering second half (which director Rachel O’Riordan could do with tightening up) as all major players have their plots resolved.
Aysha Kala and Rachael Stirling in Scandaltown. Photo: Marc Brenner
There’s a lot to enjoy about Scandaltown. Bartlett’s deliciously sharp tongue is working overtime as he sends poison arrow insults hurtling at those on all sides of the culture wars. A brilliant build-up to the removal of a coat is a lesson in successfully building suspense. The script is playful, too: Bartlett has the Virtue siblings speak in archaic language (‘thou’, ‘art’ and what not) despite the contemporary syntax being spoken around them, to guffaws from the audience, and like The 47th, weaves in some rhyming couplets for affect.
Pacing is sometimes a problem. Better direction from O’Riordan would allow rushed jokes a moment to land and the drifting second half to be nipped and tucked.
Still, Scandaltown is a novel premise for a play, the Restoration-era setting for which is neatly visualised by Good Teeth’s papery backdrops of trees and clouds, and Kinnetia Isidore’s exuberant costumes. Its humour is inclusive, if a little obvious, and in letting everyone in on its jokes, Scandaltown is a jolly night out and a celebration of the sheer ludicrous possibilities of live theatre.
|What||Scandaltown, Lyric Hammersmith review|
|Where||Lyric Hammersmith, Lyric Square, King St, W6 0QL | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Hammersmith (All lines) (underground)|
08 Apr 22 – 14 May 22, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|