The production, which started life at Theatre Royal, Bath - the city where Richard Brinsley Sheridan's 1775 play is set - sees the verbally misguided Mrs Malaprop and the blinkered Sir Anthony Absolute trying to navigate the romantic liaisons of the time.
The show, which is currently booking until 26 February 2011, launched in Hall's 80th birthday week. But did his revival of this classic comedy of errors capture make the critics chuckle?
"It's not a tremendously exciting affair ... Peter Hall's Theatre Royal, Bath revival, headed by Penelope Keith's stately Mrs Malaprop, enunciating her mistakes with unarguable precision, and Peter Bowles' dyspeptic, rakish Sir Anthony Absolute, meddling in his son's affairs, sounds like an ideal seasonal offering at this address ... Newcomer Robyn Addison is a lively Lydia Languish, but her diction runs away with her thought; she's a fair match in that respect for Tam Williams' tousled Captain Jack ... Annabel Scholey's attractively demure Julia and Tony Gardner's absurdly deceptive Faulkland are attentive and subtle in their inflections ... There is much to savour in the performances of Keiron Self as the bumptious Bob Acres, Gerard Murphy as Sir Lucius O'Trigger and Ian Conningham as the servant Fag... Keith finds sudden sadness in Mrs M at the end, but that would have been more effective had she seemed more vulnerable and less cut-glass earlier on. Still, it is very good to see her back on the stage she has graced so often in the past, even if, for some unaccountable reason, the trademark green Haymarket curtain has been replaced with a peachy new pink one."
"In Mrs Malaprop, the Irish-born dramatist Richard Sheridan created a scheming matriarch, part empress and part termagant, whose verbal confusions... have given us an enduringly useful term — namely malapropism. Penelope Keith brings to life the woman behind the word. And... is reunited with her co-star from To The Manor Born, Peter Bowles ... Keith is precise and regal, albeit with a crucial touch of vulnerability. Bowles makes her patrician acquaintance Sir Anthony Absolute a crusty figure ... Bowles’s Sir Anthony is judicious and restrained, though still capable of real menace and a single moment of unfettered rage. In all their scenes together, the pair’s natural rapport is palpable ... The play’s contrivances develop neatly yet without much dash ... This is a portrait of romantic caprice in which the romance never feels credible ... There’s appealing support, notably from Tony Gardner and Carlyss Peer, and Robyn Addison, making her professional stage debut, impresses as Lydia Languish ... The comedy never really bites. Although it’s charming, it could be zestier. We need more puckish outrageousness; instead, this is heritage theatre — respectful and good-looking, but not exciting."
"The main selling point of this show is the pairing of Penelope Keith and Peter Bowles, one of TV comedy's dream couples ... Peter Hall's direction of this 18th century classic is pretty dry ... Miss Keith... pares it right back. There is no breathy emphasis or bosom clutching at her infamous "malapropisms" ... It doesn't half take the juice out of the comedy ... If we don't laugh enough at Mrs Malaprop we are less likely to feel sorry for her - and love her - at the end ... Mr Bowles plays... Sir Anthony, and makes the performance his own with some lovely, unpredictable moments of whispered menace. Mr Bowles finds an expression of surprise which resembles a stunned owl. Great stuff. A sweaty Gerard Murphy injects pace as pugnacious Irishman Sir Lucius O'Trigger and Carlyss Peer catches the eye as a maid ... The young ladies in The Rivals are silly girls, dreaming of sentimental elopements.... Sir Anthony complains that they have been ruined by reading too many books... but these young women are hardly intellectual figures ... A little more bite and pace would not go amiss."
"Peter Hall celebrated his 80th birthday on Monday, but the old master is still in his prime ... I suspect some tiresome trendies will grumble that Hall has done precisely nothing to make The Rivals (1775) seem “fresh” and “relevant” to a modern audience, but heavens be praised for that ... The chief attraction... are the performances of Penelope Keith... and Peter Bowles ... Keith delivers Mrs Malaprop’s often inspired mangling of the English language... with the assurance of one who prides herself on her verbal eloquence ... Bowles is terrific too, his sour, pursed face putting one in mind of a man who has just swallowed a dodgy oyster ... There is splendid work, too, from Tony Gardner as the captious Faulkland, constantly reduced to seething jealousy despite the unconditional love of his beloved Julia (Annabel Scholey), whose pain provides this happy comedy with an edge of real poignancy. It’s a ripely entertaining evening in which wonderfully rich and eloquent comedy is accompanied by sudden glimpses of deeper emotion."
"The Rivals needs both audience and players to love words and appreciate the absurdities of a mannered play ... Penelope Keith in boundless purple draperies is perfection as Mrs Malaprop, delivering each barmy line with perfect assurance ... Perfect, too, is Peter Bowles as Sir Anthony Absolute, pompous and laddish in turn ... So it goes on, with side-plots and bravura turns, notably Keiron Self as daft Bob Acres and Carlyss Peer as Lucy the ever-bribeable maidservant ... Peter Hall doesn’t need to prove anything any more, and lets the classics speak for themselves ... Faulkland, wonderfully played by Tony Gardner... is a mistrustful lover forever testing his girl ... Sit back and enjoy the nonsense. Bask, as Malaprop would say, like an allegory on the banks of the Nile.