Bristol Old Vic – until 1 October 2016
First performed in 1775, The Rivals is still standing the test of time, it seems, and never more evident than with this production at the glorious Bristol Old Vic. The eloquent dialogue (written by Richard Brinsley Sheridan) mingled with a few cheeky modern slants, made for an extremely entertaining and wondrous evening at the theatre.
A fairly stripped back set, which still provided a fine element of grandeur, (especially combined with the most marvellously over the top costumes and wigs), framed the piece beautifully. Add to that, the idea that the audience were permitted to have a glimpse at backstage shenanigans before the action began, which fully engaged me in the hope of watching something wonderful.
I was not disappointed, as the story of Mrs Malaprop’s (Julie Legrand) match-making for her whining niece, Lydia Languish (Lucy Briggs-Owen) and the various mad-cap sub-plots unfolded. Briggs-Owen was the epitome of rich and spoiled brat and it was a delight to endure her tantrums and meltdowns in the wake of her aunt’s endeavours. Julie Legrand was perfect casting for Mrs Malaprop, I feel sure that this role was tailor made for her. Her splendid use of comic facial expressions and gestures tease out the eccentricities of the ridiculous characters and the timing of the various misused words that the Mrs Malaprop is so renowned for was a joy. Add to the mix, Captain Jack Absolute (Rhys Rusbatch) who is going by the alias of Ensign Beverley in order to elope with Lydia. Rusbatch plays the role with concerted smugness and a stiff upper lip, much like that of his father, Sir Anthony (Desmond Barritt) who is determined that his son should marry Lydia, and has no clue that his wayward son has been wooing her under another name.
Lydia (Lucy Briggs-Owen)
Throw the lovelorn Faulkland into the mix, played broodingly by Nicholas Bishop, and it’s a real hot-bed of misunderstandings and broken hearts. Faulkland is engaged to Lydia’s cousin, Julia (Jessica Hardwick) whom he appears to mistrust and behaves erratically with. His mistrust is encouraged by Bob Acres (Lee Mengo) who is, himself, looking for love, and has set his sights on Lydia! Mengo is flamboyance personified as Acres and provided some real laugh out loud moments. The confusion is enhanced further by the scheming ladies maid, Lucy (Lily Donovan), she works for Lydia and has been leading on Sir Lucius O’Trigger (Keith Dunphy) with love letters that she claims to be from her mistress. The letters are written by the hand of Mrs Malaprop who has taken a shine to Sir Lucius, and the one-eyed would-be Romeo is in for quite a shock when the truth is uncovered. Dunphy played the role to its full comic potential and his scenes were a real highlight for me.
This production was made all the more enjoyable and unique due to its use of an on-stage musician and utilising modern props which were subtle in their appearance yet made the right impact. Included in the line-up was a typewriter, a polaroid camera and shades!
Overall, a superb revival of a timeless piece which centres around love and its intricacies and dilemmas. A strong cast made the most of every opportunity to make the audience laugh and to interact with us, too, which was another ‘gimmick’ which worked well. I’d be keen to see this again, and again….
Photo Credits: Jack Offord