THE RIVALS To 28 July.


by Richard Brinsley Sheridan edited by Theresa Heskins.

New Vic Theatre Etruria Road ST5 0JG In rep to 28 July 2011.
7.30pm 15, 16, 27, 28 July Mat 16 July 2.15pm.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.

TICKETS: 01782 717962.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 30 June.

Energetic and superficial as an 18-30 holiday.
And the first shall be last. Though it opened the New Vic’s four-play repertory season at the end of March, Theresa Heskins’ fast-moving version of Sheridan’s 1775 comedy has turned out the last I’ve seen. It means the actors are all associated with parts from the 20th-century plays in the season, though the pleasure of seeing familiar faces in other roles can’t compensate for the feeling that the New Vic has been happier with the language structure and characters of more recent pieces.

It starts lustily with a tricycle driven on stage, suggesting Bath as a happy place for a holiday. And there’s no objection to one of southern England’s star spas being invaded by northern accents. But there’s a desultory aspect to some of the speech, that fails to point the comedy in too many of Sheridan’s sentences.

This affects even the most experienced characters; Joanna Brookes is over-deliberate, and therefore underwhelming in her malapropisms; Paul Greenwood’s sudden verbal double-take when he realises his disobedient son has tricked him into admitting his own rebellion against a father’s authority isn’t marked out (though it’s unlikely the late Michael Hordern’s explosive volte face over a boiled egg in this moment will ever be equalled).

This happens too often for individual performances to be the source of the problem. It’s as if Heskins, going for broke in keeping up the entertainment, keeps characterisation on the plot’s conveyor-belt. It has gains in a comedy crowded with incident and diffuse in laying its plot before an audience. But there are rich aspects of comedy in its characters, and they don’t show their full wealth here.

It leaves odd moments, often of visual humour to make an immediate impact – there’s a neat one when the maid Lucy, whose role in deceiving Mrs Malaprop comes to light, is discovered hiding behind a screen. And there’s some nicely energetic business earlier as Lydia’s novels, disapproved-of by her elders, are thrown around to be concealed as a headrest when the older generation appears. But even late in the run, raw energy hasn’t accommodated Sheridan’s style of dialogue into performances.

Mrs Malaprop: Joanna Brookes.
Fag: Matt Connor.
Sir Anthony Absolute: Richard Elfyn.
David: Victoria Gee.
Sir Lucius O’Trigger: Paul Greenwood.
Captain Jack Absolute: Oliver J Hembrough.
Lydia Languish: Joanna Higson.
Bob Acres: Michael Hugo.
Julia Melville: Louise Kempton.
Lucy: Emma Noakes.
Faulkland: Andrew Pollard.

Director: Theresa Heskins.
Designer: Michael Holt.
Lighting: Alexandra Stafford-Marshall.
Sound: James Earls-Davis.
Country Dance arrangers: Sue Moffat, James Earls-Davis.
Voice coach: Mark Langley.
Country Dance: Beverley Edmunds.
Fight director: Philip d’Orleans.
Assistant director: Paschale Straiton.

2011-07-04 09:55:12

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