The Rivals, Smock Alley Theatre – Dublin
Writer: Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Director: Liam Halligan
Reviewer: Laura Marriott
Smock Alley Theatre has an interesting claim to fame. Dublin’s oldest surviving theatre is well known for helping to bring the plays of celebrated playwright, poet and essayist Richard Brinsley Sheridan to the stage. 242 years after Sheridan’s first ever play The Rivals graced the Smock Alley stage, it makes its long overdue return to the theatre’s main stage. Minutes into this vibrant and entrancing production it becomes clear that Smock Alley theatre goers should not have had to wait so long for The Rivals return.
Written in 1774 this comedy of errors is set in the English spa town of Bath. It is here that conspiracy, intrigue, duels and love rivals flourish. Seventeen year old Lydia Languish is hopelessly romantic. Inspired by the novels she reads she is desperate for a love affair, devoid of financial ties or obligations. Her lover ‘Beverley’ is actually Captain Jack Absolute, who has created a false identity for himself so that he can woo Lydia and eventually elope with her. Lydia’s Aunt, Mrs Malaprop, is keen that she should make a good match. She is an excellent character that continues in the vein of The Merry Wives of Windsor’s Mistress Quickly. Well-meaning middle aged women who meddle and interfere. Mrs Malaprop’s interesting use (or perhaps more accurately misuse) of language is used to create comedy and confusion in equal measure. Lydia has two other suitors and soon it becomes impossible for her romance with the mysterious ‘Beverly’ to continue. Alongside our star couple are Julia and Faulkland, who despite their love for each other cannot seem to move past their insecurities. To add to the confusion is Irish Sir Lucius O’Trigger. This combative and vivacious character is conducting his own romance by letter. However mischievous Lucy, paid to carry his letters to Lydia, instead allows them to go astray. Further buffoonish Bob Acres has an interest in Lydia and Sir Anthony Absolute is always on the verge of a temper as he tries to negotiate the engagement of his only son Jack.
If the plot sounds a little confusing is it played smoothly and with humour. One can’t help but sit back and enjoy. The capable cast work well together to keep the audience laughing from beginning to end. Mrs Malaprop is excellently played by Deirdre Monaghan, who brings full meaning to her misuse of language while also making her a likeable and sympathetic character. Finbarr Doyle, Colm O’Brien and Aislinn O’Byrne all carry off the difficult task of playing more than one character. They make this seem easy and the changing of hats (or wigs) is used to add to the comedy. The costumes are well done and each reflects the character well. A special mention has to go to Fag/Bob Acres’ ever changing colourful and unmissable wigs.
The Rivals is performed on the main stage which backs onto one of the original stone walls. This works perfectly for the set with soft lighting at the back creating a divide between inside and outside. The set pieces are simple but well done. The colours of the divan and sofa work sympathetically with the costumes. The stage gives the actors plenty of room to manoeuvre, meaning that at one moment the audience can be in a upper class dressing room, the next in the middle of a duel in the cold early morning fields.
This joyously entertaining production by Smock Alley is not to be missed. Hopefully it will not be another 242 years until The Rivals makes its way back to this stage.
Runs until 2 September 2017