The Rivals – February 2011


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

The Critic – July 2010


By R B Sheridan

Directed by Jonathan Church and Sean Foley

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Monday 5th July 2010

Second play of the double bill, this wasn’t quite as sparkly as I remembered from the National production, where the collapsing scenery at the end was massively impressive. To be fair, this is a smaller theatre and Health and Safety would probably be a bit squeamish about putting the audience at risk, but even so the theatrical effects were still pretty good. I liked the waves and ships, and the final falling wall providing a Buster Keaton moment was good fun. The costumes were spot on, literally in some cases, and the dialogue was pretty good, although Sheridan can be pretty impenetrable at times to the modern ear.

Again, I found Nicholas Le Provost’s delivery less clear than the others, but overall the performances were fine, with Una Stubbs again turning in a superb performance as the largely unspeaking maid.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at

The Man Of Mode – April 2007


By: George Etherege

Directed by: Nicholas Hytner

Venue: Olivier Theatre

Date: Thursday 19th April 2007

I almost didn’t go to this performance today, as I wasn’t feeling so good when I got up. But a spot of breakfast got my system going, and I realised I wanted to see this production, so off we went. It was a good choice: this is one of the best productions of a Restoration piece that I’ve seen.

The style was totally up-to-date, high-tech, and very flashy. Messages were sent via text and email, and instead of the Mall or the park, we see the characters promenading in a modern art gallery. Between scenes, to cover the set changes, there were extra cast members, often dancers, entertaining us with some sort of mime activity – people meeting in the street, posing for photographers, and when it came to the art gallery, dancing like a piece of performance art sculpture – very funny. We both thought this sort of thing might become tedious, but they fitted it to the action of the play, and varied it so well that it worked brilliantly, and added to our enjoyment.

The opening scene had a short prologue added, whereby Dorimant, freshly risen, is waited on by a couple of glamour models and a photographer with his crew. He’s wearing a long periwig, a mask, and leather trousers, and poses with the models as for a celebrity photo shoot, stripping off as he goes. Nice body – shame about the tattoos. It’s only at the end of this photo shoot, as he’s giving one of the models his number, that the play proper gets going. His servant informs him that the flower-seller has arrived (changed from orange-seller in the play). She’s brought him a fresh display for his flat – red tulips to replace the roses (from yesterday, presumably) – and offers him information about a young heiress who’s come to town with her mother, and who was seen eyeing him up the previous day. We then get more information from Medley, his friend, and the many strands of the piece start to unfold (or should that be unweave?). Dorimant is tired of Loveit (he sends her a billet doux from his laptop), is in love with Bellinda and plans to bed her that night, having first sent her off to Loveit to fuel her jealousy, as he’s fond of creating a row to enable him to flounce out as if the other was in the wrong. He also plans to meet this new heiress, and see if he fancies her. Meanwhile, he’s been helping a young man, Bellair, who’s in love with Emilia but is worried his father won’t allow them to marry. They arrange to meet at Mrs Townley’s, here converted to a fashionable club, where a lot of the action takes place. Complicated, isn’t it?

There’s an extra complication in that Bellair’s father, Old Bellair, has taken to Emilia himself. Although he criticises her in public, he flirts dreadfully with her in private, lecherous old bugger. Once all these strands are introduced, we can relax and get on with the fun of seeing the plots develop. Needless to say, it all ends happily, for the most part.

Loveit’s place is a fashionable underwear boutique (if they’re still called that), where her assistant gets some of the best business and lines. Bellinda’s arrival goads Loveit into reaching below the counter for a ready supply of white wine, which leads her assistant to tap her watch, pointing out how early it is. Loveit goes for the wine on at least one other occasion, notably to give her time to replace her stocking after Dorimant’s interrupted attempt to give her a good tongue-lashing (of the sexual variety). As I recall, it was during this re-seduction of Loveit that Dorimant turned to the audience (the side we were on), and, acknowledging our reaction to his breathtaking cheek, he finally mouthed “shut up” at us, so he could carry on undisturbed. Of course, we laughed even more, but nothing much could throw that rake off his stride.

There’s a wonderful scene where Sir Fopling Flutter (the play’s fop, in case you hadn’t guessed) gives an excruciatingly embarrassing performance on the piano of a love song that he’s written. This is in Dorimant’s flat, and the others present (Dorimant, Medley, and the servant) are all busy filming it on their mobiles, to send on to their friends. Sir Fopling is played by Rory Kinnear, who’s very convincing as a young man desperate to become one of the “men about town”. His costumes were suitably outrageous, but still worked in the modern context. [Winner of an Olivier Award in 2008 for this performance]

The only other point to mention is that the casting makes the Bellair/Emilia families Asian, thereby making plausible the idea of arranged marriages, which would otherwise be difficult to portray sensibly in a modern context.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at