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Saturday, 22 January 2011

The Rivals at The Theatre Royal Haymarket

Peter Hall recently celebrated his 80th Birthday and yet seems still in his directing prime, currently reviving Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1775 masterpiece The Rivals at The Theatre Royal Haymarket. Amazingly Hall has succeeded in satisfying modern audiences with this witty 18th Century play, despite changing little to make it relevant.

Peter Bowles as Sir Anthony Absolute and Penelope Keith as Mrs Malaprop are tremendous as the revered guardians. Keith is infectious, mangling the English language at every opportunity with hilarious consequences, my favourite line being: “he is the very pineapple of politeness”, the audience roared with laughter. Sir Absolute is brilliant on stage and seems to enjoy his role, he grumbles constantly (and hypocritically) about his son disobeying his strict orders. I later found out that this pair are the much-loved partners from television sitcom ‘To the Manor Born’ on stage together for the first time in The Rivals.

The narrative follows the ridiculous love chase of the young couple: Jack Absolute and Lydia Languish. They are rather more soppy, in my opinion, though my friend thought Robyn Addison, as damsel-in-distress-Lydia, particularly good and enjoyed her lovesick performance. Both seem resolute in rebelling against their elders, this it turns out is more important than the love they have for each other.

I must admit, that as much as I enjoyed Sheridan’s classic, I found its narrative rather similar to other plays I have recently seen in Covent Garden. The differences between ‘When We Are Married’, ‘An Ideal Husband’ and ‘The Rivals’ blur in my mind; all I seem to remember are the elaborate frocks and velvet clad sets that feature in all three.

I sat on the front row of the circle, seats that have, I decided the best view in the house. Near me hung a huge austere mirror reflecting much of my fellow audience members. At times during the performance I glanced across and delighted myself in watching their reactions, this added to the fun.

The Rivals continues until 26 February 2011.


  1. Dear Milly, I have just had a quick whizz through your most recent posts and must say, your blog is brilliant! So interesting, I am amazed at the number of plays you see, so inspiring! ( but how do you afford it, it's sooooo expensive!) We seem to be on the same wavelength as I went to Somerset House the other day and blogged about it and tonight I am going to see The King's Speech - love me a bit of Colin. Will follow you/put you on my blogroll/form a cult centred on you etc xx

  2. Blighty you are too sweet - your message has made my day!

    The plays - I either get free press tickets, or from my theatre friends or buy the cheapest tickets (often only paying £5 a seat but sitting RIGHT at the back)!!

    The king's Speech is so wonderful, you will love it.

    Thank you so much for the follow etc - I really love your blog too... xx

  3. Hi Milly :) thanks for your comment on my blog!!

    Is the King's Speech that great? i'm thinking of watching it yoo :D!