Vivien Leigh’s School for Scandal

School For Scandal - Heartbeast Vicious Theatre Ensemble
School For Scandal – Heartbeast Vicious Theatre Ensemble

First performed in the 1770s, School for Scandal (by Richard Brinsley Sheridan) is a witty, frolicking play about the gossipy misbehaviour of the well-to-do’s who twist and turn the truth to scheme and cheat each other for their own gain.

Vivien Leigh’s School for Scandal (adapted by Michael Beh, Brian Bolton, Warwick Comber for Heartbeast Vicious Theatre Ensemble) adds an extra-juicy outer layer to the story by exploring the explosive 1940’s Australian tour of School for Scandal.  The stars, husband and wife Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, chose to flaunt their promiscuity in public, setting off a chain reaction that led to the breakdown of their marriage.

During the 1948 Brisbane leg of their Australian Tour the Olivier’s created a second drama off-stage. They spitefully fought over their predilection for sex creating a darker, real-life twist to the spoof that was played each night for the audience. Leigh was a troublesome star. Some suggest today she would have been diagnosed with Bipolar disorder and have the luxury of medication to temper her mania and risky behaviour; according to Laurence Olivier he “lost Leigh in Australia”.

Adrienne Costello takes the Directorship of this Heartbeast production. Costello also plays the role of Mrs Candour, arguably the best dressed person in the show. A theatre-in-the-round greets us as we enter the wonderful Trinity Hall and the Sheridan script is played on a raised central stage, while the Oliviers’ private/public life is presented below and around this. Although it presents some acoustic challenges for the cast (some of the dialogue is lost to parts of the audience depending on where you are sitting) Sheridan’s one-liners, although predictable, are very enjoyable.

It was a great decision to juxtapose the high-camp comedic wit of Sheridan’s play on the raised stage with the low-down, dark vanities of the backstage actors who lurked beneath their brightly-lit glory. The meta-theatre elements of the production design were a highlight (it was almost meta-meta theatre) with the show on stage – is camped up to the hilt, highlighting it as fantasy. The actors literally jumped in and out of action as they enter and leave the stage, peeling off their wigs as they join the ‘lower’ world of the real story (the play outside the play).

Standout performances from Warwick Comber as Olivier and Sir Peter Teazle, Karen Dinsdale as a wonderfully manic Leigh, and the fabulously determined Lady Teazle. Sherri Smith was delightful as the mischievous Lady Sneerwell. Also worth a mention is David Bentley’s Master Rowley, a wise attendant, whose quiet control was a beautiful balance for the manic mayhem of the ‘leisure class’.

The costuming by Orla Mahony is a definite showpiece, with lush period dresses for the ladies in bold colours that added an extra dimension (literally) to the stage, and notably, required their own Production Manager. The gents were suited up in their best upholstery-fabric suits. Lighting was simple and effective, but unfortunately in my eyes the whole time, as the stage was lit with outward facing spotlights from all four directions.

The show runs for about two hour with a twenty minute interval. For me, it felt too long but then the seats were quite uncomfortable (hip displacing stuff); I was tired and sore before interval. So if you do go along and see any of Heartbeast’s productions at this otherwise great venue, I do recommend taking a cushion.

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