Blast me breeches and flabber me gast. The Rivals, currently running at The Liverpool Playhouse, is one frolicsome funfest fit for any filberty-gibet‘s fancy. In other words, it’s damn funny and then some.
There is nothing to fault in this Sheridan classic, first penned in 1774 and still meeting with riotous applause 242 years later. That the set is sparse until such time as appropriate scenery flies in, adds to proceedings no end inasmuch as it stokes the atmosphere and presents surprises galore on a stripped back, Hanoverian scale.
The cast are exemplary. Dressed to the nines in their amazing costumes and wigs, there is not a man or woman amongst them who does not hit the mark. As unfortunate linguist Mrs. Malaprop, Julie Legrand is an absolute delight and dextrously delivers her delicious dialogue and adroitly drawn manner with style and aplomb. In the role of Sir Anthony, the bluff and bluster given out by Desmond Barrit is so effusive it might well be heard on the banks of the Mersey in Wallasey, whereas Nicholas Bishop’s Faulkland, with his misplaced paranoia and ardent jealousy, is simply a comic actor’s dream come true and an opportunity he does not fail to grasp.
Yet it is in the main roles of Jack and Lydia where the triumvirate production companies – and director Dominic Hill, whose lightness of touch cannot go unmentioned – have struck gold. Rhys Rusbatch as Captain Jack Absolute is outstanding. His breaking through the third wall to speak with the audience is a master class in comic timing, whereas his energy simply oozes from every pose he strikes and every misappropriation he makes.
Yet it is with her feature twisting, wide eyed, high pitched, squealing, snarling Lydia that Lucy Briggs-Owen will be most remembered for in this play. Whenever she enters, there is an audible intake of breath of expectation as to what she might do next and never once does she disappoint. Lydia without question is the archetypal, eighteenth century TOWIE predecessor if ever there was one and Briggs-Owen squeezes every nuance and ounce of vigour she possibly can from her character and, as a result, makes the stage – and the theatre as a whole – her own.
From the moment you step into the auditorium until the moment you leave, The Rivals will have you first of all giggling, then chuckling then out-and-out guffawing all the way home, filled with joy and not a little sadness that very nearly three hours have gone by so quickly.
The Liverpool Playhouse
October 5 – October 29
Author: Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Director: Dominic Hill
Producers: Everyman & Playhouse, Bristol Old Vic and Citizens Theatre
Cast: Desmond Barrit, Nicholas Bishop, Lucy Briggs-Owen, Lily Donovan, Keith Dunphy, Henry Everett, Jesica Hardwick, Julie Legrand, Lee Mengo, Shaun Miller, Rhys Rusbatch.
Running Time: 2 hrs 45 mins
PR Rating: ***** Zoons!