In my final event during the 2011 edition of the Holland Festival, I went to see the performance of Barbican’s production of The School for Scandal – directed by Deborah Warner. For the past years rather arbitrary with my picks from the festival, mainly getting tickets to whatever sounds interesting, and ignoring any information out there about these productions, because, well, that’s more interesting for me. My relationships with reading reviews after seeing things would be another blog post topic probably. But long story short, I look at how a production was received after going and having my own opinion.
With Deborah Warner’s The School for Scandal, it was a bit the other way around. After ordering my tickets of TSfS, I realized, or rather Guardian.co.uk’s RSS feed gently pointed me towards the review of Michael Billington for the same Barbican production. What caught my eye on the RSS fed was that it was rated 2 out of 5 stars. Something in my head went “huh, I doubt Holland Festival would bring a bad production… wonder what that is about”. So I read the review.
The review is basically Mr Billington finding the production a weird and forced mixture of periods, the contemporary and the 18th century setting of the play. Yet, watching TSfS, I found that this was the best thing about it. It wasn’t just another play set in the 18th century, with every single thing about it as traditional as can be. It was fun, entertaining, and still got its message across. It was modern, it made the whole theater laugh. Yes, it starts loud and “modern” with the fashion show-like start, and yes, it is funny to see someone in a 18th century dress show the other something on their mobile phone. But it is so refreshing to see a director do something with the material. Make it their own. Interpret it.
Of course not everyone will like it. But for me, seeing the interesting idea for set design, seeing the entertaining act/scene references in random parts of the stage, the modern bits and pieces popping up randomly (like the pink socks and sneakers of Charles Surface) is much more rewarding than if this had been set in one period and within its limits.
To me, and to most people in the Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam yesterday, Warner’s TSfS was engaging, entertaining, and special. That despite the fact that I was one of the younger people in the audience.