Away from the operatic mainstream of this blog, I want to put in a very good word or two indeed for a ‘straight’ play. [Aside: If plays are ‘straight’, what does that make opera? Anyway, moving on…]
The Theatre Royal, Bath, production of The Rivals, by Sheridan, has arrived at its namesake in The Haymarket. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was totally entranced by it. It had an immediacy – in the hands of this company – that frequently belied the true age of the piece (a respectable 225 years). Servants getting the upper hand on their masters, and relating to them in easy fashion, will strike a note for any fan of Le Nozze di Figaro. Wards plotting intrigues against their guardians will resonate with anyone with a penchant for Il Barbiere di Siviglia. And the whole thing has a pace and energy that would suit either Rossini or Mozart on their best forms.
I’m not going to labour the run-through of performers, largely because it is the ‘company’ feel of the piece that is its defining characteristic, and there is not a weak link to be seen. I can’t, however, not single outPenelope Keith as a completely wonderful Mrs Malaprop, bringing out sadness as well as comedy and Peter Bowles, who likewise interspersed comedy and real menace as Sir Anthony Absolute. The lovers all brought alive the different aspects of love thwarted and love enjoyed.
The production is by Sir Peter Hall, which will be a recognisable visual style to anyone who’s enjoyed the Covent Garden Die Meistersinger von Nürnburg: a wide curving roofline of Bath (the Crescent) contains doors in and out of which people leave and enter various simply-arranged room sets.
“…an aspersion upon my parts of speech! was ever such a brute! Sure, if I reprehend any thing in this world, it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!” [Mrs Malaprop, Act III]