THEATRE / The age of disbelief: Paul Taylor reviews The Schoolmistress and Dangerous Corner, both in Chichester
Monday 11 July 1994
Matthew Francis's strenuously jolly production has its work cut out breathing comic life into Pinero's feeble, underdriven farce. Its eponymous character is the principal of a girls' school who moonlights as a comic opera star in order to fund her husband's lifestyle. But the play doesn't begin to convince you that disaster would strike if he were to find out, no more than it persuades you that there is actual cause for alarm when the girls blackmail him, in his wife's absence, into throwing a wedding party for one of the pupils who has clandestinely married - a function accidentally graced by her Rear-Admiral father.
Farce needs to be propelled by genuine panic; this one is desperate, all right, but in quite the wrong sense. There's compensation from the performances, especially that of Victoria Hasted, who is all toothy mischief and sexy charm as the bespectacled pupil-teacher, and of Michael Denison as the rumbling, puce-faced Scottish Admiral. But though Guy Henry as the bounderish husband races about like some distempered giraffe, the farcical situations he's pitched into lack urgency. It's typical that the character is left alone with four nubile schoolgirls, and hanky-panky doesn't cross his mind. And if not for that, why set a farce in a girls' school?
At the end of the first half, Routledge makes a sensational appearance on a fire hoist bedecked in an operatic rig-out that suggests a cross between Brunnhilde and Mrs Slocombe. In the comic-opera finale, she gets the chance to show off her vibrant singing voice. In between, you feel she would have been perfect casting for the part - once.
Keith Baxter's revival at the Minerva of Dangerous Corner has the chic and the instinct for shock that made his recent production of Rope such a success. Set in the aftermath of a supper party, Priestley's play is about two alternative realities: in one, an accidental slip leads to devastating revelations and suicide; in the other, it is bypassed to sustain illusion and fragile happiness.
Beautifully performed, Baxter's version contains some haunting adjustments. For example, it's the tune 'Beautiful Dreamer', not the wedding march, that is played by the musical cigarette box. The recurrence of this theme, and the well-judged lighting and sound effects that re- evoke the past, intensify our sense of the nostalgia that is, the characters learn, propped up by false pretences.
'The Schoolmistress' runs in repertory to 24 September; 'Dangerous Corner' runs to 6 August. Box-office: 0243 781312
film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Stephen Fry explains what he would say if he was 'confronted by God'
- 2 Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
- 3 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 4 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 5 Canadian woman suing police who locked her in van with sex offender who then raped her
Gorillaz Phase 4: Cartoon supergroup is back as new artwork is unveiled
Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
As Better Call Saul launches, here are the other spin-off shows we need to see
Game of Thrones season 5 trailer: The first full-length look is here
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
Stephen Fry explains what he would say if he was 'confronted by God'
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
Hard line on immigration could cost Tories the election