Sophie Boddington is entertained, if unnerved, by Ooook Productions’ ‘The Rivals’.
Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1775 play, The Rivals, is known for, among other things, its bawdiness (at least, according to the time period), slapstick humour, and use of questionable accents. Consequently, it came at the perfect time in Michaelmas Term, when I think we are all in need of some light relief.
As soon as the actors appeared on stage, it was clear that a great deal of hard work and commitment went into creating a believable atmosphere of the time period. I was struck by the attention to detail in costuming – flapper dresses and patent leather shoes – which were effective in transporting the audience to the silent-film era of the 1920s. Alongside this, Angus Shennan’s gorgeously jazzy music heightened the moments of physical comedy, as well as helping to mask some of the clumsier scene transitions.
As director, Winters utilised silent roles to great effect: the addition of the maids and servants to Sheridan’s play was a resounding success, with much of the humour stemming from their over-the-top arguments and fantastic chemistry – Jude Wergerer and Cameron Gergett’s turns as Thomas and the Boy respectively were genius. Moreover, Henry Gould should be praised for his commitment to the role of the Head Maid, which drew laughter from the audience every time he walked on-stage.
Despite the resounding success of the play’s introduction, it became apparent early on that there would be technical issues. The majority of scenes relied upon intricately-choreographed movements of bulky set pieces, so I initially understood Winters’ use of wheeled furniture. However, this proved to be more of a curse than a blessing, with a wardrobe tumbling over in the wings, and at one point a wooden door toppling off-stage to nearly land on my feet. I’m sure this could be easily addressed with practice and some tweaking of the blocking; nevertheless, it must be said that this detracted greatly from a very strong start, as the audience collectively held their breath with anxiety in later scene transitions.
However, the actors gave commendable performances in spite of these challenges. As the leading couple Jack Absolute and Lydia Languish, Jack Palmer and Anne Marie Garrett both possessed the necessary charisma to carry off their at-times ridiculous roles, with particular comedy coming from Palmer’s weary interactions with his grandiose father.
Yet it was the older characters who stole the show: Issy Flower as Mrs Malaprop was hysterical, with her high-pitched shrieks and constant dancing; combined with John Duffett’s antediluvian mannerisms and fits of rage, this pair were magic together on stage. Furthermore, Ariana van Biljon’s realistic portrayal of the heartbroken Julia added a welcome breath of realism and humanity to Sheridan’s play; I only wish that her lover, Odunayo Oladjui as Faulkland, had given a less restrained performance to mirror this.
Winters’ directorial debut was flawed, yes, but charming, and wonderfully brought to life by her strong creative vision, a highly talented cast, and Shennan’s lively score. I very much hope that its technical issues are resolved in later performances, as Ooook!’s The Rivalsundeniably has the potential to be as slick and professional as it was original and amusing.
The Rivals will be playing in Fountains Hall in Grey College on Saturday 1st December at 2:30pm and 7:30pm.