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The Rivals (Bristol)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The Rivals, also known as A Comedy of Manners, paints a vivid picture of Georgian Society, was first produced in 1775, and has remained a firm favourite with audiences ever since.

Part of the attraction I think lies in the fact that although the language may differ from our own times, the feelings, emotions and characters all show traits which we recognize in our own family, friends and colleagues – the imagination can slip easily from one century to another.

The story centres on two young lovers, Lydia Languish (Shaelee Rooke) and Captain Jack Absolute (Nathan Winklestein). Lydia, head full of popular romantic novels of the time, wants a purely romantic love affair and Jack pretends to be "Ensign Beverley", a poor officer. Lydia is enthralled with the idea of eloping with this poor soldier, in spite of her guardian Mrs. Malaprop, a moralistic widow.

The tale is one of tangled loves and lovers from the aristocratic classes, with plenty of witty asides from the servants. Lucy the ladies maid (played by Lauren Saunders) is excellent as she gleefully betrays one secret after another – for a little remuneration of course! While Fag (Aneurin Pascoe), servant to Captain Jack, aids in the deceptions.

Mrs. Malaprop is the chief comic figure of the play, thanks to her continual misuse of words that sound like the words she intends but mean something completely different (spawning the term malapropism) and wonderfully played here by Amy Reitsma. Together with Jack's father, Sir Anthony Absolute (Matthew McFetridge), they conspire to get Jack and Lydia together, not realizing the pair are already lovers under different names.

This production is performed by members of the International Acting Course from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, with five of the actors hailing from the United States, four from Canada, and two from Australia.

They all cope incredibly well with the difficult language, with just the tiniest hint of a non-UK accent peeping through on very rare occasions.

The play is directed by Christopher Scott and he has created an imaginative and highly animated production. He cleverly introduces some 21st century touches – even ending with a disco. The set (designed by Chris Gylee) is stark and geometric but definitely works, and the whole production is enhanced by the lighting and touches of music.

All of the actors cope well with the language, but the star of the evening is definitely Amy Reitsma's Mrs Malaprop. She faultlessly handles the magnificent speeches and misuse of words throughout. Well Done!

- Barbara Maxwell


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