Arts Review: The Rivals

Dir, Dominic Hill, Citizens Theatre, 2nd – 19th November

The Rivals wraps you into its hysterical, stereotypical world before the play officially begins. As the audience enters the theatre, live music tinkles in the background, actors cover their face in a mask of white paint and rouge, towers of fake hair perch on the heads of tottering, flamboyant women, faces are pulled, legs unpleasantly scratched and mirrors inspected. Enter the 18th century world of absurdly complicated manners, incomprehensible notions of elegance and honour, and fantastic dress.

Rarely have I seen a play where all elements combine so perfectly to entrance me. Most remarkable, however, was the acting. The cast managed to find the perfect amount of over-acting to ensure the the comedy of manners work. And by the end of the play, I had fallen in love with the strangely charming, stereotypical characters.

Desmond Barrit as Sir Anthony Absolute had flawless comic timing, making the audience erupt in laughter at the lewd innuendos with his cane. The other guardian figure, Mrs Malaprop (Julie Legrand) perfectly executed her character’s failed attempts at impressing with her large vocabulary. Indeed, I shared her relief that the young men were ‘horizontal, standing on their feet!’. Yet the younger generation also impressed. Lucy Briggs-Owen as Lydia Languish sounded just like any shrieking, spoiled teenage girl with an enviable capacity for fluttering her eyelashes and pulling faces of shock, delight and confusion. Yet truly, the play was only successful as the whole cast had a tangible connection on stage, as lovers quarrelled and re-united, elders chastised the foolish young, pirate-like figures longed for blood and pathetic suitors worried.

In addition to this brilliant acting there was a remarkable set: massive picture frames separated scenes and ensured there were never gaps in the drama. Clothes racks littered the stage displaying the phenomenal era-costumes, which made me want to travel back in time just to try on a dress like that.

All in all, this play was spectacular. I left the theatre with abs aching from almost three hours of non-stop laughter and mind buzzing with how remarkably profound the play was in reflecting the society we live in today.

[Kirsty Campbell]

Photo Credit: Mark Douet

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