The season’s choice at the Stephen Joseph has become a tradition – Arthur Wing Pinero play follows works by Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward.
They are the antidote to the festi ve frolics of pantomime – not that there is anything wrong with ‘it’s behind you’ – oh, no there isn’t! But they offer more sophistication.
Pinero is probably the least well-known of the ‘greats’ picked for the programme - but in his day was as much-loved as Wilde and Coward. His comedies including The Magistrate and Trelawny of the Wells being huge hits.
The Schoolmistress is a farce – billed as ‘festive’ but apart from a stunted Christmas tree as part of the set there is few nods to Yuletide – but not of the bedroom variety. We are firmly in the drawing rooms of some of the better houses in London – Portland Square if you please.
The Schoolmistress of the title is Miss Dyot – in charge of an academy for young ladies Volumina College – and recently married to ‘gentleman’ the Honorable Vere Queckett.
She is forced to secretly go on stage in a comic opera to earn the money needed to keep Vere in the style to which he is accustomed. During her absence she puts him charge of the school - and the young ladies run rings round him and his friends.
Add to the mix a mad old sea dog, a secretly married young lady, a minx of a governess, a servant with a love of pyrotecnics and an earnest lover – and cue comedy. This isnot raucous, riotous territory – more a knowing laugh and feel-good factor.
As always the production is beautifully dressed and perfectly delivered with – as required by all comedy – impeccable timing.
Sarah Moyle is first class as Miss Dyott – particularly entertaining as her alto-ego the comic opera star. She was gifted the role and passes it along to the audience with great style.
Catherine Kinsella, Rebecca Tanwen and Charolotte Brooke are stylish young ladies and their governess. For the men, Peter Mcqueen as the Rear Admiral and Richard Teverson as Vere Queckett are suitably, by turns, bewitched, bothered and bewildered.
The battle of the sexes is a sophisticated, humorous, perfectly presented Christmas treat which will keep you entertained into the new year.
The Schoolmistress runs until Saturday January 4