Hot on the heels of Trumpian triumph The 47th and his controversial Cock, Mike Bartlett unveils a third play in the space of a few weeks. Scandaltown is part bedroom farce, part wannabe polemic, and all kinds of silliness. Love, lust and loyalties are tested before secrets are revealed and a family is reunited.
Bartlett has never been accused of subtlety and this is no different. The Restoration-era stylings mean he can get away with a large cast of 12 and character names like social media consultant Hannah Tweetwell, the innocent Phoebe Virtue and TV producer Rosalind Double-Budget (pronounced ‘dooblay boojay’, obviously).
Matt Eton (played by Richard Goulding) is the most thinly-veiled of all, a young government minister in charge of procurement who claims responsibility for ridding Britain of ‘the plague’ and, suffocated by family life, seeks physical comfort elsewhere (no prizes for guessing who this is). As all gather at the highlight of the season (the Netflix masked ball), chance, confusion and a sale at the local fancy dress shop lead to three unexpected pairings and some delightfully silhouetted sex. Hilarity, nevertheless, ensues.
Rachael Stirling’s Lady Susan Climber is the star around which this cast revolves. Her fierceness is possibly inherited from her late mother Diana Rigg and it is her powerhouse performance which lifts the wordier scenes. Bartlett has plenty to say about modern society over the two-hour-plus runtime but his latest play lacks the sharpness and intelligence he brought to The 47th or the intense power dynamics of Cock.
Despite that, there is plenty to enjoy in Scandaltown if one is partial to a well-plotted and provocative comedy which doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Scandaltown at the Lyric Hammersmith. Tickets from £10, until 14 May 2022.