Review by Carmel Shortall
The King’s Players have transposed and updated Sheridan’s The Rivals for the Camden Fringe. No longer set in 18th century Bath, the action has been moved to 1920s Monte Carlo. The play has been cut from five to three acts and to a running time of just under two hours to make it more fringe-friendly. And it works.
Monte Carlo in 1928 is an excellent substitute for Georgian Bath – conjuring up visions of leisured and wealthy gay young things with nothing better to do than agonise and obsess over romantic entanglements. And they do get entangled.
In order to woo trashy novel-addicted Lydia Languish, Jack Absolute must pretend to be a poor actor so as to cut a sufficiently romantic figure in her eyes. But then his father, Sir Anthony, tries to arrange a match between them and Jack/Mr Beverley becomes his own rival for her affections, joining two other rivals – Bob Acres and Sir Lucius O’Trigger. Romantic sub-plots weave in and out of the main plot and a chorus of conniving and manipulative servants keep the action moving at a pace.
The cast are all excellent but David Bentley is on cracking form and clearly enjoying himself immensely as irascible Sir Anthony Absolute. Directors, Jon Barton and Joe Rizzo-Naudi also cut, adapted and ‘re-imagined’ the play, keeping the humour, intricate plotting and frenetic pace intact. The elegant costumes in cream and ivory, the set design, the lighting and the sound (in particular the songs linking the scene changes) all combine to create an authentic sense of the 1920s.
This new production of The Rivals is a treat and Sheridan’s Mrs Malaprop is still the original and best.
There are three more performances of The Rivals, Upstairs at the Gatehouse – at 7.30pm on Friday 19th and Saturday 20th August plus a matinee on Sunday 21st at 4.00pm.
The Gatehouse is situated where Hampstead Lane meets Highgate High Street. If you get out at Highgate tube, cross over slightly to your right to get to Southwood Lane, walk the entire length of said Lane and when you get to the end of it, cross over, aiming slightly to your right again and you will have found The Gatehouse. Otherwise get a 210 from Archway or a 214 from Kentish Town.