THE RIVALS To 12 March.


by Richard Brinsley Sheridan.

Mercury Theatre Balkerne Gate CO1 1PT To 12 March 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat 2 March 2pm, Sat & 10 March 2.30pm.
Audio-described 12 March 7.30pm.
Captioned 10 March 7.30pm.
Runs 3hr 10min One interval.

TICKETS: 01206 573948.
Textphone: 01206 245518.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 28 February.

Labouring under a misapprehension but visually vivid.
Two pages of the Mercury’s programme explain why director Gari Jones presents Richard Sheridan’s comedy as burlesque. Someone described it that way in its day, while Jones feels there’s plenty to burlesque in modern society. Hence, the bare walls and multiple entries suggesting Cabaret’s Kit Kat club, plus the out-of-period costumes worn by the white-face, sometimes semi-dressed performers.

Yet three hours is a long time to sustain a single-strand parallel, though there are attempts to put Variety into Jones’ burlesque cabaret, with choreographed, stylised movement and having characters mime to pre-recorded numbers, sometimes with eerie falsetto.

The brutal brick backing splays of colour on the characters looks impressive. But what the programme note never mentions is language. There’s a richness, variety and warmth to Sheridan’s dialogue, and humour, which make the posturing and promenading seem alien.

Nor does the restriction to a few pieces of plain furniture help. Katherine Manners may loll from time to time on her plain chair but she’s much more a Tanya Tantrum than a Lydia Languish as she leaps around in annoyance. Her friend Julia seems unaffected by the affectation around, in Nadia Morgan’s performance. Rightly, for Julia is the most sensible character on stage.

Her suspicious lover Faulkland isn’t, but despite an inauspicious costume (he looks like 18th-century lower clergy) David Tarkenter accommodates the exaggerated style into the character’s ridiculous aspect, smiling widely when he’s satisfied his suspicions by testing his lover beyond endurance, standing fearfully huddled when her anger’s unleashed.

It’s moments like this, or a character like Christine Absalom’s Mrs Malaprop, where (costume and towering wig apart) burlesque meets conventional comic exaggeration that the language flourishes.

There is, as well, a fine swaggering portrayal as the wilful father from Ignatius Anthony, an officer who seems to have commanded Roger Delves-Broughton’s Fag. As always Delves-Broughton makes much of his character, his wirily mobile servant becoming both Master of Ceremonies and, after a command from his former officer, adopting a military stride.

For, one-sided as it is, and labouring its point, Jones’ production is theatrically inventive and vivid, something Sheridan’s classic doesn’t always seem.

Mrs Malaprop: Christine Absalom.
Sir Anthony Absolute: Ignatius Anthony.
Males Servant: Nicholas Barton-Wines.
Bob Acres: Graeme Brookes.
Fag: Roger Delves-Broughton.
Sir Lucius O’Trigger: Marshall Griffin.
Lucy: Clare Humphrey.
Lydia Languish: Katherine Manners.
Julia Melville: Nadia Morgan.
Captain Jack Absolute: Will Norris.
David/Coachman: Thomas Richardson.
Female Servant: Bethany Sharp.
Faulkland: David Tarkenter.

Director: Gari Jones.
Designer: Amy Yardley.
Lighting: Ben Payne.
Sound: Marcus Christensen.
Movement: Charlie Morgan.

2011-03-03 12:28:55

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