Theatre Review: The Rivals by Richard Brinsley Sheridan

by Ken Powell

From L to R: Kieran Buckeridge (Captain Jack Absolute), Peter Rylands (Sir Anthony Absolute), Maggie Tagney (Mrs Malaprop), Laura Darrall (Lydia Languish). Photo by Keith Pattison.

From L to R: Kieran Buckeridge (Captain Jack Absolute), Peter Rylands (Sir Anthony Absolute), Maggie Tagney (Mrs Malaprop), Laura Darrall (Lydia Languish). Photo by Keith Pattison.

I have been waiting to see The Rivals for a long time. As a fan of literary quirks and amusements, malapropisms (the use of inappropriate words which sound similar to the right ones for comic effect) are much beloved. It was a character in Sheridan’s first play, The Rivals, which gave the name to this term.

Mrs Malaprop is the guardian of the young girl who is central to this comic plot of thwarted lovers, deception, duels and dubious liaisons.  Her confused use of words (“He is the very pineapple of politeness!” and “she’s as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile” being just two examples of many) bewilder the other characters and bring tears of laughter from the audience. I have looked forward to seeing the original character in action and Theatre by the Lake did not let me down. Maggie Tagney’s portrayal of Malaprop was just what I’d hoped to see. She genuinely had me gasping for air at times.

The Rivals is a classic farce set in Jane Austen’s Bath and mocks the virtues and vices of polite society of the time with secret love letters, misunderstandings and duels abounding. It takes a little while to get used to the genteel language of the late 18th century but the comedy is so physical on the stage that even a young person can understand what’s going on pretty quickly. It’s worth the effort as the team at TBTL have pulled off a brilliant production which is all but perfect in every way.

The staging, which requires multiple scene changes, has been cleverly designed by Martin Johns so that the pace never drops for a moment. The cast are wonderful and I wish I had space to mention them all. Alas I have to restrict myself to highlighting one or two.

Beyond doubt, the jovial and (almost) ever joyful character of Bob Acres was hilariously played by Alex Phelps and stole the show. If this was Hollywood, Acres would get his own comedy show off the back of this.

But not far behind was yet another superb performance from Thomas Richardson playing the mournful glass-permanently-half-empty-if-not-dashed-to-the-ground Faulkland whose morose worries about the love of his life drives her to distraction. I thought Richardson was excellent in Watch it, Sailor! but he surpasses himself with this performance.

In short: Go see this play. It is witty, intelligent but most of all great fun not just for the audience but for the players themselves it seems!

From L to R: Alex Phelps (Bob Acres), Kieran Buckeridge (Captain Jack Absolute). Photo by Keith Pattison.

From L to R: Alex Phelps (Bob Acres), Kieran Buckeridge (Captain Jack Absolute). Photo by Keith Pattison.

The Rivals runs until Friday 4  November and tickets are available at www.theatrebythelake.com or at the box office (017687 74411)