Penned in 1775 as a means of making quick cash to support his lavish
lifestyle, RB Sheridan's classic Restoration comedy is set in the elegant
city of Bath. Here resides Lydia Languish (Miranda Floy), whose head is
full of fluffy romantic novels and who dreams of eloping with a penniless
lover. To this end, potential suitor Captain Jack Absolute (Mark Healy)
takes on the guise of a poor solider called Beverley and indulges her
hopelessly romantic notions of love.
Unfortunately, the wheels begin to come off Jack's cunning plan when the
famously confused Mrs Malaprop (Gabrielle Drake) arranges with his peppery
father, Sir Anthony Absolute (Michael Jayston), for Jack to marry Lydia.
An almighty romantic tangle ensues, aided in no small part by scheming maid
Lucy (Kate O'Mara), who gets her kicks from creating amorous confusion.
For those unfamiliar with the play, the opening dialogue between two
servants is an important explanatory device. It's therefore regrettable that
Antony Howes over-hams Fag's cockney twang as to render most of what he's
The initial scenes plod along as the production struggles to find rhythm
and spark. Thank goodness, then, for Mrs Malaprop and Sir Anthony, whose
introduction prompts an immediate thaw in the stalls. As Malaprop, Drake
gives a bristling performance, delivering her muddling mouthfuls of lines
with clarity, while never playing the part for cheap laughs. Jayston is
similarly impressive and commanding in his portrayal of the bad-tempered gentleman.
As 17-year-old Lydia, Floy is delightfully naïve and melodramatic. By
contrast, Maria Miles is pretty dreary as the meek Julia, speaking in an
odd, gulping manner that quickly becomes irksome. Healy is powerful and
assured as Jack, while Stash Kirkbride (Faulkland) is wonderfully insecure
and neurotic. Notable cameos come from Arthur Bostrom (the strutting Sir
Lucius O'Trigger), who perhaps overcooks the Irish brogue a smidgen, and
Mark Noble as whimsical country bumpkin, Jack Acres.
While Dickon O'Mara's set is regal, it is also rather bland and
stagnant. Scene changes involve little more than the to-ing and fro-ing of
chaise lounges. But credit to director Knight Mantell for infusing these
breaks with engaging period hubbub from the more minor actors.
With its bubbling satire and biting social commentary, this latest touring
production is sure to delight all Sheridan fans. But those coming cold to
RB's work may find it all rather hard going.