London party

Scandaltown – Lyric Theater Hammersmith, London

Screenwriter: Mike Bartlett

Director: Rachel O’Riordan

Mike Bartlett is known as a prolific writer for theater and television and this, his second play to open in London in a week and his third currently running in the city, only adds to that reputation. Sure, Scandalville refers to London and claims that nothing very significant has changed since the post-pandemic second half of the 17th century. The play is a mix of modern social/political satire and traditional restaurant comedy.

Stinging with hypocrisy and bombast, the writer takes storylines and character names that are no less ridiculous than those presented in the original comedies and places them in a 21st century post-pandemic setting in which corruption , drug addiction and infidelity are commonplace. The jokes are, in some ways, scattered and many miss the mark, but it is truly outrageous that there are still so many targets to hit in the modern world.

Northerner Phoebe Virtue (Cecilia Appiah) heads south, cross-dresses, and embarks on a mission to find her missing brother Jack Virtue (Matthew Broome) and save him from a life of debauchery. She arrives in time to attend the social event of the season, the Netflix Masked Ball. This extravagance results in a cascade of mistaken identities and gives the 12 actors the opportunity to parade in flamboyant costumes, designed by Kinnetia Isidore.

The London elite come before us. Lady Susan Climber (Rachael Stirling), came third in the 2015 series of The apprentice, but suffered a disgrace following misguided comments on social media. She hires Hannah Tweetwell (Aysha Kala) as a consultant, who guides her into an affair with Matt Eton (Richard Goulding), the exuberant and deceitful Secretary of State for Procurement. Bartlett doesn’t try too hard to conceal the similarities between many characters and their real life counterparts.

The humor is risky, but also risk-free, not threatening to offend anyone. The play flounders when Bartlett wades too deep into the swamp of party politics and when he takes it all way too seriously and lectures the audience. Otherwise, its up-to-the-minute joke style keeps the ridiculous comedy bubbling, and director Rachel O’Riordan’s nimble production maintains the Restoration Comedy flavor throughout. The actors all seem to be having a good time, given full freedom to go beyond.

Bartlett puts the second act together with a potentially glorious gag, then, unforgivably, fails to deliver the punchline. It’s a top-down ride, but, overall, the laughs far outnumber the yawns, and in these dark days it’s cause for gratitude.

Until May 14, 2022