Review Round Up: Scandaltown, Lyric Hammersmith

We round up the reviews for the world premiere of Mike Bartlett’s new comedy, directed by the theatre’s Artistic Director Rachel O’Riordan.

(c)Marc Brenner

The Guardian: *** “There is much delight in the spoofing of its genre: the typically revealing names, from Matt Eton (Richard Goulding), a repressed Etonian and Tory politician, to the conspicuously marginal character, Freddie Peripheral (Luke Hornsby). The classic restoration drama traits are all entertainingly over-egged, from disguises and comic asides to period language (whence, thereof, t’was), and the obligatory showdown when secret paternities are revealed and grudges unburdened.”

WhatsOnStage: *** “there is a lot of pleasure to be had en route in Rachel O’Riordan’s lively production, cleverly choreographed by Malik Nashad Sharpe. Simon Slater’s music and Kinnetia Isidore’s costumes mix the contemporary and the 17th century to striking effect. I smiled throughout; it’s a sign of how high a bar Bartlett has set himself that I emerged vaguely disappointed.”

Evening Standard: ** “It’s laugh-out-loud funny at times but its discussions of freedom, liberty and responsibility – not to mention some last-minute gags about partygate – are schematic. It feels like Bartlett – whose blank verse drama The 47th, about a Trump run in 2024, opened at the Old Vic last week – wrote it to prove he could once again do something that no one else is doing.”

iNews: ** “And though the Restoration shtick handsomely befits the gilt-and-velvet Lyric, and Bartlett has some fun with its extravagantly ornate language and farcical comedy of manners, the characters aren’t nearly big or vivid enough to make Rachel O’Riordan’s stubbornly flat production dance or sparkle.”

(c) Marc Brenner

Broadway World: *** “In theory, our time period lends itself to comparison. Theatres have been closed for years, the ruling class are utter idiots, and people demand entertainment. The show is – obviously – on the nose, bawdy, slightly problematic at times, but filled to the brim with one-liners and throwaway wit.”

The Reviews Hub: *** 1/2 “The humour is risqué, but also risk-free, not threatening to give real offence to anyone. The play flounders when Bartlett wades too deep in the swamp of party politics and when he takes it all much too seriously and lectures the audience. Otherwise, his joke-a-minute style keeps the ridiculous comedy bubbling and director Rachel O’Riordan’s nimble production maintains the flavour of Restoration Comedy throughout. The actors all seem to have a whale of a time, given complete freedom to go over the top.”

London theatre Reviews: **** “Although the overarching plot isn’t meaningful beyond comedic purposes, and the set not particularly lavish, it does allow for the fun to be in the characters and wordplay; it is clear that every comment and interaction was quipped craftily. Scandaltown is satirically pure genius, and brings the mix of relevance, controversiality and humour, along with the madness that makes for a great night out.”

Time Out: *** “Rachel O’Riordan’s production gets some strong performances from the cast, but it never descends into the level of boisterous mayhem this kind of satire needs. And Bartlett’s text has more endings than ‘Lord of the Rings’, perhaps because of underlying anxiety about the topics he’s covering. It’s a cautious ending for fractious times, but it’s hard not to wish he’d gone out all guns blazing, railing against times that badly need a satirist’s pen.”

(c)Marc Brenner

The Stage: *** “Rachael Stirling enlivens an otherwise tepid modern Restoration comedy by Mike Bartlett.”

London Theatre1: ***** “Bartlett’s play is not a panegyric to the Left. Everyone is fair game in this show, but the tone is not snide – it’s sharp but, more essentially, it’s kind. That you can contemplate the current state of affairs without delusion and yet somehow feel better for it, is nothing short of a miracle; Scandaltown is just the elixir we need right now.”

London Theatre.co.uk: *** “A Restoration comedy set in the modern age, Scandaltown is well enough served by a bustling, vigorous production from Rachel O’Riordan, the Lyric’s artistic director. But it suffers from an on-the-nose thinness that wears out its welcome, however clever some of the japery may be in a Private Eye-inflected kind of way.”

British Theatre Guide: “It is all fairly harmless if you have a running time of a hundred and forty minutes to spare. But when many activists are desperately fighting for the rights of refugees, or going to prison for sitting on a road in protest at government inaction on the climate emergency, it seems a pity that Mike Bartlett should create a shallow, cynical play that goes nowhere.”

The Times: ** “Panto season seems to have arrived earlier than usual. Mike Bartlett’s new play is billed as a modern take on Restoration comedy, but the writing is so slack it makes the average end-of-the-pier show look like a Tom Stoppard history of calculus.”

The Independent: * “Beyond packing as many contemporary cultural references into his script as possible, the playwright’s satire about the rich and powerful is underachieving.”

Scandaltown continues to play at the Lyric Hammersmith until the 14th May.

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