Thursday 23 October 2014

The Rivals

Arcola Theatre, London


Written by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Directed by Selina Cadell

Nicholas Le Prevost and Gemma Jones

Selina Cadell's take on The Rivals offers a traditionally costumed interpretation of Sheridan's Restoration Comedy that at three and a quarter hours in length demands commitment from its audience. That the programme's synopsis runs to two pages of closely printed text suggests a concern amongst the creative team that the audience may not be able to clearly follow the action on stage. 

Their anxiety is well founded. Good commedia demands more than affected shouting and for far too much of this play the dialog is foppishly bellowed. Meanwhile, for the sizeable constituent of the audience seated to the left and right of the Arcola's intimate thrust, nearly all of the scenic decoration along with much of the action is obscured from view. It makes for a long evening.

Amidst the tedium however there are nuggets of pure genius. The excellent Nicholas Le Prevost as Sir Anthony Absolute defines his credentials as a master of his craft. His comic timing is impeccable, whilst his vocal work as the sputtering blustering knight is perfectly weighted. Opposite him, the far too rarely seen Gemma Jones glides gloriously through the gift of a role that is Mrs Malaprop. Perhaps the greatest female comic part in the classic English canon, Jones' powdered heaving d├ęcolletage provides visual enhancement that only cements her inspired characterisation. Imagine the late great comedy gem Mollie Sugden fused with Margaret Thatcher and you can start to comprehend the brilliant hilarity that Jones creates.

Elsewhere amidst the supporting players, Adrian McLoughlin as Sir Lucius O'Trigger is charmingly entertaining, whilst Carl Prekopp as both Fag and David is also fun to watch.

Elegantly performed chamber music supplements the scene changes, but it's not enough to suppress the boredom. Outstanding in parts for sure, but this production of The Rivals is strictly for enthusiasts and students.

Runs until November 15th 2014

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