Peter Hall’s production of Sheridan’s The Rivals starts as it means to go on. We’re in Bath with Simon Hughes’ curved honey-coloured set serving for both exterior and interior scenes. It’s a world of wigs and sedan-chairs, a society whose veneer of politesse shrouds mercenary motives and sexual shenanigans. People strike attitudes – and some of these are more than mere poses.
Faulkland can be a regular bore, so much so that you wonder why Julia doesn’t give him his congé much earlier in the play than she does. Tony Gardner and Annabel Scholey make them into real people, far more dynamic than the nominal young hero and heroine, Jack and Lydia. Robyn Addison plays the laid-back heiress with a voice as empty as the character’s head; Tam Williams is a very young army captain with more than an eye for passing beauties.
Both Penelope Keith as the verbally challenged Mrs Malaprop and Peter Bowles as the irascible Sir Anthony have their characters off pat and earn their regular exit-rounds of applause. Maids and valets in high comedy are licensed to be pert, and Carlyss Peer as Lucy and Ian Conningham as Fag duly oblige. Gerard Murphy plays the impoverished Sir Lucius to the Irish manor born and Keiron Self bumbles pleasantly as Bob Acres.