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The Rivals review at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick – ‘delightfully sparky’

Kieran Buckeridge, Peter Rylands, Maggie Tagney, Laura Darrall. Photo: Keith Pattison Kieran Buckeridge, Peter Rylands, Maggie Tagney, Laura Darrall. Photo: Keith Pattison

The Rivals is the final main house show of Theatre by the Lake’s summer season. Director Ian Forrest, who steps down as artistic director after 18 years, ensures the pace doesn’t flag and keeps the energy high by adding in plenty of inter-scene business – delivering letters, street meetings, and a running gag of increasingly fed up servants carrying furniture on and off when the scene shifts to interiors.

It initially seems as though designer Martin Johns (another of the theatre’s founding creatives) has phoned in his set consisting of five doors in the style of an architectural drawing. The joke is on us, though, as three are revealed to be periaktoi, enabling some speedy scene switches.

The mood is kept upbeat by composer Richard Atkinson’s delightfully sparky 18th-century score, and the curtain call is preceded by the respectable Georgian fun of a communal dance.

The cast members are clearly enjoying themselves, and as a result the audience laughs with, as much as at, the cruder stereotypes.

Heather Phoenix and Oliver Mott as the servants provide an ironic perspective on the absurdities above stairs. Kieran Buckeridge makes a dashingly commonsensical romantic lead in his pursuit of Laura Darrall’s in-love-with-love Lydia Languish, leaving the absurdities of love to others. Thomas Richardson amuses with his hypersensitive, gloomy beau Faulkland and Peter Rylands’ splenetic Sir Anthony Absolute is nicely judged. Maggie Tagney brings a deadpan dignity and sharp comic timing to her Mrs Malaprop.

The audience warmed most, however, to Alex Phelps’ winningly gormless country squire Bob Acres.

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Enjoyable classic with some fine comic turns