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The Rivals (tour - Guildford, Mill Studio)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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In the latest co-production by Creative Cow and the Yvonne Around Theatre, Sheridan’s comedy of manners The Rivals is not only tackled, but wrestled to the floor in a flurry of ruffled wigs, corsets and impeccable comic timing. With its plot offering more twists and turns than a Thorpe Park roller-coaster, cast and crew manage to revive this comedy and make it accessible for modern audiences without detracting from its original glory.

Director Amanda Knott has clearly done her research as none of the actors slipped into pantomime replicas of fops and rakes, instead the subtle hand gestures and flourishes of tail coats feel as natural as a modern girl using hair-straighteners or a mobile phone. The cast manage to place the audience completely at ease by inhabiting their 18th century movements rather than demonstrating them.

Despite the (for 21st century ears) wordy dialogue, the pace never slackens and the cast nimbly dance with the verbal flourishes. Harvey Robinson is a bona-fide chameleon playing the roles of the manservant Fag, foppish Faulkand and the slippery Sir Lucius O Trigger with natural flair, while Jonathan Parish fills the role of Captain Absolute with charm and masculinity. Indeed the sword fights between these two actors are so convincing and filled with energy it’s a wonder a Health and Safety official hasn’t shut them down!

As Mrs Malaprop Katherine Senior has the audience tittering with glee and Jack Hulland gives a downright hilarious performance as Sir Anthony Absolute. Kate Sharp and Lucy Theobald manage to add sparks of life into otherwise secondary characters and provide excellent foils for their male counterparts without ever seeming too “modern”.

Alla Sellick’s stripped back but historically accurate costumes are tongue in cheek and cleverly allude to the play’s themes of pretence and feminine facade. The only thing that stops this production from being near-perfect is the inconsistencies in costume changes for the women. The actors are able to define the separate characters extraordinarily well and so makes the over-blouses seem like a last minute addition.

The Rivals is a tricky play to get right but Creative Cow shows us just how funny Sheridan can be and leaves the audience wanting to doff a hanky and exclaim “Zounds!” at just how entertaining this production is.


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