I have read, studied and seen the comedy, the Rivals by Richard Brinsley Sheridan several times, so when our reading group decided to go and see the latest performance at Bristol Old Vic I was quite excited. When we were studying it at school we actually performed the play, or parts of it, and i seem to remember that I was Lily or Julia… but it’s a long time ago! It’s ages since I’d been to the theatre to see anything at all, and yet when I was young I loved going, so the combination of going to see a play I liked with friends I liked was just perfect.
… and I have to say I was disappointed… My friends really enjoyed it, so maybe it was just me… the audience were laughing and applauding, so maybe it was just me…
I thought the set was great, and original, I thought the costumes were good too, but somehow the performances just failed to make me laugh, and in fact I might even have uttered some groans. In my opinion (not that of my friends or the rest of the audience) there was too much running around, reminiscent to me of the old Whitehall farces. There was too much female screaming, Lydia Languish and Mrs Malaprop shrieked and laughed hysterically, pulled faces, fell on the floor, spoke in strange exaggerated accents… It seemed more like a pantomime – there was little subtly and it just became tedious – for me. The male characters shouted and stamped and gurned at the audience, and yet seemed pale in comparison to the over the top Miss Languish and Mrs Malaprop. To enjoy the predicament the characters find themselves in, there has to be some empathy, some liking for them… and I just didn’t have much. When characters are ridiculous, they have to be played straight in order to be funny; a whole cast of caricatures becomes tedious. There were the same visual jokes in this performance, the same gags repeated over and over – as I mentioned, the falling on the floor… it didn’t seem funny the first time, and even less funny when it was repeated.
In the interval there was a fire alarm and we all trooped outside, and there were the actors, standing waiting to return to the stage. Luckily it was a false alarm and we all trooped back in for the second half. Whether the actors had got a little chilly outside, or whether this half is always like this, but it seemed cooler and calmer, and I did begin to engage with what was going on. One actress stood out for me and that was Jessica Hardwick as Julia and I’ll be interested to see her performing in the future.
I seem in a minority in my opinions, however, and the revues have nearly all been good, so well done the cast, and I’m sorry I was left cold!