The Rivals

October 5-29

The Rivals

Liverpool Playhouse


Where to start, and where is it all going to end up? A plot so convoluted you could even say, the play’s not the thing:

it’s Sheridan’s sly digs at Society, scintillating dialogue and a cast of cariacatures, which are brought beautifully and hilariously to life. In short, Miss Lydia Languish has 3 suitors ( well, 4), cousin Lucy but one, and confusion abounds, not least with the machinations of her impudent maid Lucy (Lily Donovan) plus of course, the legendary mangling of language from her aunt, Mrs Malaprop.

Yes, all the world’s a stage and to add to the theatricality of the production, the setting is back stage, with props being moved or adjusted to indicate a variety of interiors and exteriors, especially with the happy appliance of anachronistic devices, doubly so with the use of Polaroids, leading to a scene where every single drop of humour is lengthily milked. And the costumier has really gone to town, ie, Bath. At the height of the season, every one in the cast is at the height of their powers, whether in the depths of despair or ecstatic. Or adding unheard of nuance to the double take…

Here are to be found Sir Anthony Absolute, a blustering tyrant who turns out to have a heart of gold, his volatility played like a virtuoso by Desmond Barrit, with son, Captain Jack, most definitely taking after him. Julie Legrand is magnificent as La Malaprop, conveying exquisitely with the occasional, inadvertent, subtle change in accent, sounding quaite common at times, the possibility of her having been a parvenue; a social climber. Minor quibble: ‘allegory’ for ‘alligator’ is one thing but occasionally it’s a distraction, trying to work out what word should have been employed. Meanwhile, Jessica Hardwick plays level-headed Julia (and oh how you feel for her, having to put up with the tiresome outrageously demanding/endlessly dissatisfied Faulkland, tirelessly played by Nicholas Bishop), a delightful foil to ditsy cousin Lydia. Lucy Briggs-Owen’s performance as Essex cum Valley Girl is so amazing – whateveah comes her way, every appearance was greeted with utter delight and damn near a cheer.

It’s is all so over the top as to be way out of sight, in the best sense. When it comes to humour, the main characters are ably aided and abetted: the other rivals, Lee Mengo as the anxiously aspiring Bob Acres and Keith Dunphy as Sir Lucius O’ Triger, cunning and flamboyant, and the servants, Henry Everett’s fawning David and Shaun Miller’s crafty Fag.

A regular rumbustious romp, the very thing to enhance the mellow Autumn days, embracing the idea that Christmas has come early.


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