At school we have been studying Sheridan’s School for Scandal. I found this a hard play to approach as the language is quite old-fashioned and reading the play off the page the conversations seem very mannered. It didn’t help that there is a long introduction with lots of allegorical references and references to people famous at the time. I quickly decided that I could skip this introduction which seemed unlikely to feature in a modern performance and go directly to the text. Certainly the production I saw omitted this preamble.
The production I saw was an amateur production by the Kelvedon Players on 11/10. I had been anxious to see a professional production of the play, but there were none available. However, seeing the production I did made me reconsider my views on theatres role in society. I have attended many professional productions of various plays and our whole family very much enjoys these events. Going to see a play at, for instance the National theatre is a totally different experience from my evening with the Kelvedon Players. Fist of all ordering the ticket s was very different. We had to telephone the producer. She was very friendly and pleased that we wanted to attend, and indeed suggested that I also attend a dress rehearsal, and discuss with the players their take on the drama. Sadly I wasn’t able to take up this offer. The tickets when they arrived were simply printed on ordinary paper and the seats where unnumbered. They were accompanied with detailed handwritten directions as to how to reach the venue where the performance was to take place. Whilst the National theatre programme has printed instructions included as part of the information on the plays being shown, this personal involvement with a member of the audience is not such a pronounced element.
Once we arrived we discovered that the production was very much a village event, and people seemed to be there for to support actors or socialise, rather than anything else, although, having said that, everyone seemed to enjoy the production. The man next to me sang along with the music put on between scenes and breathed ‘Well-done Terry’ at the end of the performance. I felt he may have been at earlier performances!
The Play was set in the 1930s, rather than the time it had originally been intended for (the 18th century). I feel this worked very well and as it showed that society does not change or learn from its mistakes. It also made the play easier to relate to because the characters seemed much more plausible and contemporary.
The costumes were mostly characteristic of the 1930s, but in many cases I feel that rather than finding a costume to match the character, they chose a costume to match the era, probably due to a small budget.
In order to give the audience the impression that the events were in the 1930s the production used several clever, cost-effective devices. First if all, the tickets and programmes were printed with a very 1930s image. Secondly, the music playing as you went into the theatre and during scene changes was easily identifiable as from the 1930s.
To costume the whole production in perfect 1930s costumes would have been very expensive. What the producer did was to provide the first character to come on stage, Lady Sneerwell, with a very elaborate 1930s dress. This put the audience in the mood of the era, and so when other character came on in costumes that were not so well suited to the era, you read 1930 into them anyway.
The scenery was very basic and clever. There was a board hanging down from the back which could be turned round in several different ways, to create 4 or 5 scenes very quickly. There were also props such as a different set of chairs to match each scene and glasses that also went with it. The characters themselves made the scenery changes as they walked on and off stage assisted by a maid dressed in 1930s costume. The maid helped the play to flow from one scene to another and kept up the mood of the play and the era.
I found it very interesting to see the wide range of talent in the production. Some people who on the face of it had very small parts contributed greatly to the production. For example the maid who had a non-speaking part mimed her reactions to what was going on and was very powerful. On the other hand some other characters with main roles seemed to slip out of role at times. This was a difference I noticed from professional theatre productions.
Another technical device much more evident in this amateur production than in professional equivalents was the prompt. She sat on a level with the front row of the audience and on the couple of occasions when she prompted, this was very obvious.