by Richard Brinsley Sheridan.
Theatre Royal Haymarket SW1Y 4HT To 26 February 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30 Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 35min One interval.
TICKJETS: 0845 481 1870.
Review: Carole Woddis 24 November.
Still fresh despite a possible attack of touritis syndrome.
Peter Hall describes Sheridan’s 1775 classic as a `celebratory comedy’ of human behaviour in the programme for his Theatre Royal Bath revival, now settled into London’s Haymarket for the Christmas and New Year season.
An appropriate choice, it’s an amiable flamflummery of love thwarted and reunited, bedecked in silks and periwigs with at its heart one of English drama’s great comic distorters of language, Mrs Malaprop.
When you add in her being played by Penelope Keith, much loved from BBC TV’s To the Manor Born, paired alongside her Manor Born co-star Peter Bowles, the evening should be a guaranteed pleasure.
It almost is. Set within Simon Higlett’s Palladian rotunda that ingeniously serves for both domestic interiors and Bath exteriors, Timothy Ramsden certainly found it a “treasurable evening”, “fresh and funnier than ever”.
He wasn’t alone. Fellow critics had been equally enraptured at its Bath opening. Sad to relate, I was less enamoured, though the audience all around me were loving it.
As Timothy remarked, this Rivals refreshes by its fine attention to detail. Some of it, though, to this viewer, seemed laboured, maybe the result of touritis.
There are, of course, still moments of sparkle. The servants – and like other pieces of the period such as The Marriage of Figaro, servants are here often cleverer than their `masters’ – are nicely individualised, especially Fag, Jack Absolute’s servant and Lucy, Lydia Languish’s maid.
Tam Williams’s lightweight, smiling Jack Absolute and Robyn Addison’s abstracted Lydia, as if indeed lost inside one of her romantic novels, are pleasant without being stylish enough to carry much comic ballast.
Gerard Murphy’s grandiloquent Irishman, Sir Lucius O’Trigger and Keiron Self’s Bob Acres however are both gems – richly comic portraits made human as well. Annabel Scholey’s loving, honest Julia makes a good foil to Tony Gardner’s bland, insufferably self righteous and sexist Faulkland.
As for the `star’ turns, dutifully applauded at exits and entrances, Keith finds a delightfully benign quality in a woman usually played for grotesquerie. Bowles Sir Absolute, by contrast, only rises to comic heights towards the end in his gleeful paternal collusion and pride with his happy-go-lucky son.
Captain Jack Absolute: Tam Williams.
Fag: Ian Conningham.
Thomas: Martin Bishop.
Lydia Languish: Robyn Addison.
Lucy: Carlyss Peer.
Julia Melville: Annabel Scholey.
Mrs Malaprop: Penelope Keith.
Sir Anthony Absolute: Peter Bowles.
Faulkland: Tony Gardner.
Bob Acres: Keiron Self.
Sir Lucius O’Trigger: Gerard Murphy.
Errand Boy: Rhys Jennings.
Acres’ Servant/Faulkland’s Servant: Esward Harrison.
Julia’s Maid: Bishanyia Vincent.
Director: Peter Hall.
Designer: Simon Higlett.
Lighting: Jason Taylor.
Sound: Gregory Clarke.
Composer: Mick Sands.
Movement: Ian Brener.
Costume: Christopher Woods.
Associate director: Cordelia Monsey.
First performance of this production, Theatre Royal Bath, Sept 7, 2010.