Ginger Hibiscus | Review by Ginger Hibiscus | The Rivals at the Arcola Theatre
Review by Ginger Hibiscus | The Rivals at the Arcola Theatre
Review by Ginger Hibiscus | The Rivals at the Arcola Theatre
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24 Oct REVIEW: The Rivals at the Arcola Theatre

The Rivals has arrived at the Arcola Theatre, 240 years after it was first performed in Covent Garden. A classic restoration comedy, it’s the perfect demonstration that with excellent direction, a fantastic cast and some musical instruments, an antique script can be transformed into a play that’s every bit as clever, funny and entertaining as those being penned today.

The plot centres on young Lydia Languish (Jenny Rainsford), a marvellously melodramatic, romantic soul, who’s fixated on the idea of eloping with an impoverished officer, “Ensign Beverley.” Like the heroines in her novels, Languish yearns for the tumultuous, stirring a scene at every opportunity and flouncing around- much to the disapproval of her severe aunt, Mrs Malaprop (Gemma Jones). “The old weather-beaten she-dragon” and the mother of malapropism, Mrs Malaprop is a character so singular that her name has entered the English dictionary. Her fingers in many a metaphorical pie, she inhabits a world of bluff and double bluff, of payoffs and unashamed double standards. Gemma Jones is captivating as the ridiculous guardian, delivering her fabulous misuse of sophisticated-sounding lexical choice, ignorance and self righteousness, all with an incredible charisma.

Particularly outstanding is Carl Prekopp as Fag (servant to Captain Jack Absolute) and David (coachman to Sir Anthony Absolute). Showing great versatility, he proves himself the master of mannerisms, flitting between characters with just a sweep of the hair and an adjustment in posture, embodying his characters entirely as he even manages to have them both appear on stage at the same time.

Of course it’s a restoration comedy, so there are twists and turns galore. They start with Ensign Beverley, who is less of an officer and more of a captain – Captain Jack Absolute (Iain Batchelor) to be precise – and whilst Ensign Beverley is out secretly wooing Miss Languish, Captain Jack’s father is determined to marry his son off to the best possible match. Cue: hilariously jumbled web of romance and lies.

The original script by Richard Brinsley Sheridan is a work of genius, dense with intelligent social observation and cerebral humour, and when coupled with Selina Cadell’s outstanding direction, The Rivals delivers comedy on every level, more and more rewarding the more you listen, understand and question. The way it’s translated onto stage adds an entire new level– the music, glances, and moments of deliberately self-conscious faux pas draw on the eccentricities of the characters and of British society, playing up to the hypocrisy inherent in every culture.
It’s a play that’s as British as an orderly queue for afternoon tea, politely snaking around a red phone box. Despite the run time of approximately three hours, it’s fun and engaging from start to finish, and is adapted beautifully for the space, making it an absolute triumph of restoration theatre. Who would have known it’s possible for three hours to pass so quickly?

Image credit: Simon Annand
Dates: 15 October – 15 November 2014
Tickets and information:

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
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