Promising to be “a glimpse into a part of our history,” The United Players production of the classic School for Scandal will open on September 5. Written in 1777 by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, this play takes the intrigue of creating and avoiding gossip in London to the stage.
Director and set designer Matthew Bissett spoke of his excitement to be working with The United Players on their 55th anniversary. Bissett is known for his work with the Ensemble Theatre Company on their production of The Farmsworth Invention, an engrossing play that comments on the invention of the television. As an ex-opera director, his eye for classic works has lent itself splendidly to School for Scandal.
The play itself is a wonderful union of the past and present in a most unreal way. Bissett describes the work as an “artificial play, [where] people [. . .] pose like paintings. The language is complicated and beautiful.” The set, instead of focusing on realism, highlights the artistry of the language.
Consisting of a series of empty picture frames, according to Bissett, the set allows the actors to step out of the action and play with the audience. Elaborate costumes and acting add a sumptuous tone to the whole production.
The play follows various storylines, and explores many topics, such as those of greed and love. “There’s an old, rich man who has married a country girl,” Bissett says, explaining that the man thinks his wife will stay a country girl forever, but things quickly change when he brings her into the hustle and bustle of London. In another storyline, a man returns from his travels with great riches, and must decide to give his fortune to one of his two nephews. Drama and hilarity ensue.
Bissett describes the play as highly comedic, filled with misunderstandings and wild chaos, saying, “There is a reason it’s been done for so long.” School for Scandal was a huge hit in its time, and has been consistently revamped over the last 200 years. “It has never gone out of style,” says Bissett, “the writing is very clever, and it’s fun for everyone.”
In The United Players’ production, there is an attempt at modernity and uniqueness in how the play is performed. “This helps to express the universality of the message,” says Bissett, and it allows the audience to identify with the story. He says that people being recognizable is extremely important, as it allows the play to talk to a modern audience.
School for Scandal promises to be an enlightening work, full of large skirts, and larger laughs. The universal message, speaking on the human obsession over gossip “hints at [us] not having changed” as a society after all these years, says Bissett. Made for “people who love words,” this play entertains and teaches lessons about the marriage of media and gossip.
The United Player’s cast of 15 will soon take to the stage, asking the viewer to question the role and scope of media interaction in our lives. Truly a treat to see, The United Players will bring a sleek and modern twist to a timeless classic.
School for Scandal will be presented by The United Players at the Jericho Arts Centre from September 5 to 28. For more information, visit unitedplayers.com.