by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
The Arcola Theatre
24 Ashwin Street, London E8 3DL to 15 November 2014.
Mon – Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm
Runs 3hr 5mins One interval
TICKETS: 0207 503 1646
Review: William Russell 21 October
An unrivalled revival
Restoration comedy, of which this play is a late example, is usually performed on proscenium stages with the “fourth wall” firmly in place. The audience watches these verbally gifted people indulging intrigue and delivering splendid speeches in another world filled with duplicitous servants.
Director Selina Cadell argues there was no fourth wall then, that the actors and audience always understood they were watching a play, and the actors in character let it be known they were on a stage. It is this complicity between players and audience that she has recreated to brilliant effect in the Arcola, a world in what matters are the words – the dominant currency in the world before the telephone, cinema, television and the social media. The result is the play is seen afresh, but beware a front row seat.
The Rivals, a long play, can drag. Here, however, time flies. There is a terrific performance from Nicholas Le Prevost as the choleric Sir Anthony Absolute, matched by two splendid rakes in Iain Batchelor as his son Jack masquerading as somebody else in order to win the heiress, Lydia Languish, and Adam Jackson-Smith as Jack’s friend, Faulkland, a man filled with self doubts who keeps ruining his own romantic hopes.
The great role is, of course, that of Mrs Malaprop. Gemma Jones makes a gorgeous old harridan, but her performance suffers from the uncomfortable fact that the joke about the character does not work all that well today. Mrs Malaprop does not mispronounce words; she misuses them to hilarious effect. To be hilarious, however, the audience needs to know the word she should have used, how silly the ones she uses are, and to recognise she has used the wrong word in the first place. It says something about the state of education today that lots of the Malapropisms raised not a titter. Ms Jones sails on regardless, however, and gets fine support from Mr Le Prevost and a first rate cast.
Fag: Carl Prekopp
Thomas the Coachman: Adrian McLoughlin
Lydia Languish: Jenny Rainsford
Lucy: Hannah Stokely
Julia Melville: Justine Mitchell
Mrs Malaprop: Gemma Jones
Sir Anthony Absolute: Nicholas Le Prevost
Captain Jack Absolute: Iain Batchelor
Faulkland: Adam Jackson-Smith
Bob Acres: Justin Edwards
Sir Lucius O’Trigger: Adrian McLoughlin
David: Car Prekopp
Manservant: Ed Phillips
Maid: Lily Cooper
Director: Selina Cadell
Set Designer: Emma Bailey
Costume Designer: Rosalind Ebbutt
Musical Director: Eliza Thompson
Lighting Designer: Tom Boucher
Assistant Director: Theo Scholefield
Choreographer: Stuart Sweeting