Deception, decorum and duelling, The Rivals is by no means a ‘normal’ 18th century play. Director Selina Cadell has unusually chosen to break the fourth wall – something unheard of in the 1700s. A bold decision perhaps, but this actually increases the play’s humour and adds a more farcical level to the piece.
With a running time of a little over three hours, The Rivals does drag slightly in places and the pantomime style of certain characters, although funny, is a little too contrived.
However, the cast is excellent, particularly Nicholas Le Provost (Sir Anthony Absolute) who not only excels in his portrayal of his character, but clearly shows Sir Anthony’s wicked sense of humour, when he berates his son Jack (Iain Batchelor) for being a dog!
Gemma Jones as Mrs Malaprop epitomises the spoilt lady who tries to show off her breeding and intelligence with a host of malapropisms, including “He is the very pineapple of politeness,” and “Sure if I reprehend anything in this world, it is the use of my oracular tongue and a nice derangement of epitaphs.”
Hannah Stokely brings her own brusque humour to the piece, with fabulous facial expressions and accent that bring tears of mirth to many audience members. Batchelor is to all intents and purposes a boundless cad, but the playful twinkle in his eye redeems his character.
The simplicity of the staging, combined with the strong, enthusiastic acting and genuinely funny story, make up for the length of the play and The Rivals is an enjoyable and fun (albeit very different), 18th century play.
Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes
The Rivals is playing at the Arcola Theatre until 15 November 2014.