MY WEEK (July 3, 2014): Clear comedy in a complex production

Last Tuesday night (June 24) was a loud and exciting evening out, thanks to Stomp and Absolute Bowie at Ardingly College.

Absolute Bowie at Ardingly ArtsFest
Absolute Bowie at Ardingly ArtsFest

The high-energy spectacle was exhausting to watch, so I was glad on Wednesday evening to sit in the darkened studio at The Capitol and watch The Rivals by HAODS.

Here’s my review:

The Rivals by Richard Brinsley Sheridan (first performed 1775) is a comedy of manners that details the complicated antics of several suitors and their would-be lovers.

Miss Lydia Languish wants a genuine love affair with someone who has no money, so her admirer, Captain Jack Absolute, pretends to be a poor officer called Ensign Beverley. Comic confusion ensues when Jack’s father, Sir Anthony, demands that Jack takes Lydia’s hand in marriage. Things are complicated further by Lydia’s other suitors – Bob Acres, who learns that ‘Beverley’ is his rival, and Sir Lucius O’Trigger.

The play is handled well by director Barry Syder, who presents the plot in a way that’s easy to understand and laugh-out-loud funny.

Dennis Manning is on good form again, getting major laughs from his performance as the cocky, devious and somewhat slimy Jack Absolute. His OTT pronunciation of Mrs Malaprop’s name is merely one of his many comic flourishes.

Mrs Malaprop herself is wonderfully portrayed by Alison Shapley, who uses her booming voice to highlight the widow’s pretentiousness. Her ‘malapropisms’ always have the desired effect as a result.

Rob Wild puts in a fiery display as Sir Anthony while Alicia Marson is delightful as the naive and stroppy Lydia.

Barry Syder, who played Bob Acres twenty years ago, picks up the part again successfully. He conveys a naturally passive character who’s goaded into fighting by the bloodthirsty Lucius O’Trigger (Martin Bracewell displaying a subtle balance of menace and charm).

The minor characters are surprisingly strong too. Kathryn Attwood (Lucy), Nicky Austin (Sara), Paul Milwright (David) and Yvonne Chadwell (Maria) all get their memorable moments in the play.

The production’s side story adds a different kind of humour to the tale. Its tone is more observational, as the character Mr Faulkland constantly causes his own problems while trying to court Miss Julia Melville. The two constantly bickering lovers are played by Chris Hampton and Emily Hale, who get the most from their characters’ hilariously melodramatic attitudes towards romance.

The set is simple, yet elegant, drawing attention to the actors’ performances, as well as the rich costumes on display.