The Rivals – February 2011

7/10

By: Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Director: Peter Hall

Venue: Theatre Royal, Haymarket

Date: Saturday 19th February 2011

Bit disappointing, this. The set was fantastic, all in cream, with a marvellous trompe l’oie curve of Georgian rooftops in a crescent above the flat back wall, which had a magnificent central door, and two smaller doors to either side. Exits and entrances could also be made directly from the wings, and the curve of the rooftops came forward to yet another Simon Higlett picture frame, about halfway up the stage. In front of this were two elaborate doors, one on each side, and I did finally notice a beautiful parquet oval in the floor. So the location was abundantly clear, and with the extra furniture brought on and off (by liveried servants to boot), and wonderful costumes, there was plenty to enjoy visually.

This version of the play was an amalgam of the three ‘original’ versions, and while it was coherent, it did feel a bit minimalist at times. However, we got a fuller Mrs Malaprop than usual, which in this case was a real treat. Perhaps just shaded by my memories of Stephanie Cole’s portrayal, Penelope Keith did a fine job of getting across her character’s misuse of the English language, and I’m sure there were several instances which I’d never heard before. Peter Bowles was entertaining as Sir Anthony Absolute – not as physical as some we’ve seen, but he conveyed the changes of mood very nicely. The servants, Fag and Lucy were splendid, and I’ve often thought the servants’ parts are some of the best in the Restoration Comedies.

The main problems I found today were the weakness of the romantic leads, and the lack of a brisk pace to keep the energy up. It’s a problem with Peter Hall’s directorial style now that his productions are a lot less physical, and this can make things a bit dull, although there’s no doubt the language comes across brilliantly. Jack Absolute was played by Tam Williams, and seemed a bit weak. Lydia Languish was played by Robyn Addison, making her professional stage debut, and was sadly wooden and inexpressive. Annabel Scholey was fine as Julia, although Tony Gardner, excellent in other stage comedies we’ve seen, was rather dull as Faulkland. Gerard Murphy was good as Sir Lucius O’Trigger, but had relatively little to do, and I did like Keiron Self as Bob Acres, the unsuccessful suitor to Lydia, who manages to avoid a duel, but not the makeover from a tailor.

I still enjoyed seeing the play again – it’s a total classic – but I wouldn’t recommend the production as the best I’ve seen. Perhaps they’re just getting a bit jaded towards the end of their run.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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