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The Rivals review at Bristol Old Vic – ‘frenetic and none too subtle’

Julie Legrand, Desmond Barrit, Lee Mengo and Keith Dunphy in The Rivals at Bristol Old Vic. Photo: Mark Douet
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The Bristol Old Vic has chosen Richard Brinsley Sheridan`s The Rivals as the 18th century comedy of manners contribution to its 250th anniversary celebrations, despite the fact it’s set entirely in the neighbouring city of Bath, Bristol`s arch rival for the role of the region`s theatrical axis.

In this co-production with Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre and the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, director Dominic Hill has gone for a frenetic approach that borders at times on post-Restoration farce. All the rowdy laughs are there, but they overwhelm Sheridan`s lampooning of the romantic caprices of the time, and the enduring theme of friction between parents and children over affairs of the heart.

Julie Legrand and Desmond Barrit get off to slow starts as the two principal comic characters, Mrs Malaprop and Sir Anthony Absolute, although Legrand`s heartfelt delivery of her final mangle of the English language – “all men are Bavarians” – is a gem.

Lucy Briggs-Owen plays the key role of the overly-romantic Lydia Languish as a not very bright young thing, while Rhys Rusbatch is also something of a dullard as her lover, Captain Jack Absolute.

It is left to Nicholas Bishop, as the obsessively neurotic Faukland, constantly testing the fidelity of his beloved Julia, played by Jessica Hardwick, to bring some real poignancy to proceedings.

Tom Rogers` set revives the theatrical art of the painted backcloth, but the production is rather undermined by actors not involved in the action wandering around the stage, seemingly aimlessly.

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Verdict
None too subtle a production of Richard Brinsley Sheridan`s timeless comedy
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