Summer. 1955. The death of James Dean. The beginning of the Vietnam War. Marilyn Monroe’s iconic white dress. And gossip. Lots and lots of gossip.
‘The School For Scandal,’ re-imagined by award-winning Director Dave Simms for Blue Sky Theatre, is a contemporary adaption of the classic 17th Century play, depicting the lives of the idle rich and superficial, the rebellious teens, and two brothers, Charles and Joseph, contrary, conflicting and caught up in a rival battle to claim their late father’s inheritance.
“The idea of the story is that the brothers have lost their father, and their uncle has been sending them an allowance,” Dave says. “He returns from India disguised as two different people and wants to find out how the two boys are getting on. But they’ve both gone very different ways. Charles has been spending the money like crazy, going to the races, gambling money, wine, women, and song, listening to rock and roll music. Joseph is a sanctimonious two-faced guy, so I thought I’d make him an MP.”
Dave says he wanted to tidy up the original play and make it more accessible to contemporary audiences. “I wanted to do the show [without] all those fuddy-duddy costumes that make it all look old-fashioned and out of date. So, I thought ‘when else was there a time when gossip was important?’ In the '50s there was this real clash going on just after the war where there were all these people who were older and wanted everything to go back to normal and for everything to be how it was before. [But] all the young people said ‘hang on a minute, lots of other young people went off to war and got killed. Life’s too short to be boring, so let’s have fun'.”
The 1950s were a time for change – rock and roll, leather jackets and a sense of identity. “People started having fashion. People started wearing jeans,” Dave says, “and the teenager was born. There was this real clash. And the newspapers were all about scandal and ruining the reputations of all these boring old people in positions of power, like MPs. They were all sleeping around and hiring prostitutes and doing god knows what. But it was the press who were sort of exposing them. And I thought of the gossip back then and the real clash between the old and the new.
“What’s fun about doing a play like this,” Dave adds, “is that you’ve got the older actors playing the uncles and the mothers, you’ve got some of the young guys as well, and the young girls who are playing some of the younger girlfriend parts, so there’s a real mixture of age groups. But when you’re all in a story together and you’re all going through the same experience, it’s amazing how it comes together. People get to play more than one part. The actors love it because they love transforming themselves into a completely different person.”
‘The School For Scandal’ is unlike many plays, especially since it’s outdoors. “You’re sitting in a beautiful garden, it’s January, you’ve had a nice drink, you’ve had a picnic, you’ve had a real laugh watching something that’s good fun,” Dave says. “The whole experience is what I want people to take away. You’re sitting in a garden on a nice white chair as the sun goes down. It is a really lively comedy, it’s not too deep and serious. But it does make the point that people who gossip, who cheat and lie, never succeed in the end.”