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Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s comedy, The School for Scandal, revived at the Vaudeville Theatre, London, 18 July 1872

March 30, 2014

the cast of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s comedy, The School for Scandal, revived at the Vaudeville Theatre, London, 18 July 1872
standing, left to right H. Elton as Careless, Charles Fenton as Moses, Marie Rhodes as Maria, Henry Neville as Charles Surface, William Farren as Sir Peter Teazle, John Clayton as Joseph Surface, Susan Rignold as Lady Sneerwell, A.H. Roberts as Rowley, H. Vaughan as Trip, Mr Mercer as Snake
seated, left to right Horace Wigan as Sir Oliver Surface, David James as Sir Benjamin Backbite, Amy Fawsitt as Lady Teazle, Tom Thorne as Crabtree, Martha (Patty) Oliver as Miss Candour
(carte de visite photo: Elliott & Fry, 55 Baker Street, Portman Square, London, 1872)

‘VAUDEVILLE THEATRE.
‘It is satisfactory to find that the rage for trashy extravaganza and ”sensational” melodrama, injurious though it unquestionably has been to the dignity and well-being of the stage, has not so completely demoralised the public taste as to destroy all appreciation for works of a more refined and rational order. That there are symptoms of a reaction in favour of such productions is to be inferred from the enthusiastic approval with which the plays of Mr. [W.S.] Gilbert have been received at the Haymarket, and those of Lord Lytton and the late Mr. T.W. Robertson at the Prince of Wales Theatres. Mrs. Swanborough has done well at the Strand with [George] Colman’s comedies. Shakspere [sic] himself, though still shamefully disregarded, is not altogether without honour in his own country, for Mr. [Charles] Fechter’s Hamlet drew an overflowing audience every night that it was presented at the Princess’s, and the tragedy would doubtless have proved attractive for many consecutive weeks had it not been withdrawn solely out of regard for the health of the chief actor, whose strength would have been overtaxed by frequent performance of so arduous a character. Nor are evidences of a healthier state of opinion wanting in other quarters, where distaste for the niaiseries of burlesque has been succeeded by a relish for entertainment of a sounder and more elevating description. At the Vaudeville, for example, the success by which the recent revivals of comedies more or less ”legitimate” has been deservedly attended has emboldened the managers to still more ambitious enterprise in the same praiseworthy direction; and not Sheridan’s masterpiece has been produced in a style which, if not exactly correspondent to the loftiest ideal of dramatic merit is nevertheless fairly promotive of intellectual enjoyment, and decidedly creditable to most of those concerned in the representation… .
The School for Scandal is one of those plays which seem to have been written to make the world happy,” remarks an acute critic. ”Few of our dramatists or novelists,’ he adds, ” have attended enough to this. They torture and wound us abundantly. They are economists only in delight;” but it must not be forgotten that the pleasure to be derived from the best of plays depends not a little upon the manner of its representation. In the present performance particular praise is due to Mr. William Farren, for his fine performance of Sir Peter Teazle – a part to which this artist may be said to have an hereditary claim, and in which he exhibits, in conjunction with a spirit and refinement all his own, not a little of the genial humour and patrician dignity traditionally distinctive of his father’s famous impersonation of the character. Old play-goers, even those most passionately attached to the glories of bygone times, will find no difficulty in admitting that in the absence of the father there can be found no better representative of the part than the son, who, while he gives impressive interpretation to all the essential attributes of the character – its lofty bearing, its high sense of honour, its nicely-graduated fun and pathos – also displays such grace of elocution as does full justice to the wit and sentiment of the matchless text. This is a great merit in a comedian, and its value is felt all the more vividly in a play like this, where the dialogue is of such beauty and brilliancy that every word of it is worth listening to. Miss Amy Fawsitt does not appear to be gifted with histrionic taken of a high order. She has no great skill in characterisation; but besides intelligence and good utterance she has freshness, vivacity, and good looks, and these qualities stand her in good stead in her representation of Lady Teazle. Whether she is right or wrong in supposing that Sheridan intended the rusticity of his heroine’s education to peep through her newly-acquired elegances is a point open to discussion; but certain it is that Lady Teazle, as impersonated by Miss Fawsitt, is no fine lady, but a rustic beauty to the end of the chapter. Mr. J. Clayton is a thoughtful, well-educated actor, who, not content with a spirited recitation of the text, always makes to himself a definite ideal of a character, and plays up to that ideal with consistent energy. His Joseph Surface is a subtle, plausible, insinuating scoundrel, whom to hear talk were indeed ”edification” but that his high-flown sentiments ”sugar over” vile devices. Miss Oliver is excellent as Mrs. Candour; Mr. Horace Wigan very good indeed as Sir Oliver Surface. The characters of Crabree and Sir Benjamin Backbite, ”the wasp and butterfly of the comedy,” as Elia [i.e. Charles Lamb] calls them, are admirably supported by Mr. T. Thorne and Mr. D. James retrospectively, the former depicting with capital effect the cold, black malice of a thoroughpaced traducer, with whom slander is the business of life; and the other picturing quite so amusingly the despicable proceedings of the frivolous scandalmonger, who sips scandal like tea, and utters his libels with the airs of a petit maître. Charles Surface is invariably such a favourite with the audience that the actor who essays the part may be said to have wind and wave with him in his sailing. Mr. H. Neville has the full benefit of this happy prepossession, and accordingly winds great applause in the part. Marie and Lady Sneerwell are underplayed, the latter so lamentably so as to hurt the general effect of the performance. The mise-en-scène might be better; and as for Charles Surface’s pictures they are of such a quality that he may well be pardoned for getting rid of them.’
(The Morning Post, London, Saturday, 27 July 1872, p. 5f)

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