Theatre review: The Rivals at Rosemary Branch Theatre

Laughs come thick and fast as Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s subtle play is given sublime makeover

Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s notoriously difficult ‘comedy of manners’ receives a simple but sublime makeover in this stripped-down production from Creative Cow.

Founded in a cowshed under the watchful eye of a White Park herd, it is hardly surprising that this adaptable company thrives in intimate surroundings.

Fortunately, the Rosemary Branch Theatre provides the perfect venue for a performance that relies heavily on conspiratorial winks and gestures to the audience.

The minimalist setting, six chairs, two fairy-lit scaffolds and a chequered floor, may be at odds with this lavish period piece set in the fashionable city of Bath, but it ensures our attention never strays from the mesmerising cast.


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There are some strong performances here, from Jonathan Parish’s bumbling David to Katherine Senior’s pretentious ‘she-dragon’ Mrs Malaprop.

However, it is Jack Hulland’s standout act as Sir Anthony Absolute who steals the show; a preposterous 18th Century caricature who spits, sweats and swears before stomping up the isle in a seat-shaking furore.

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At times there is a danger that such tongue-twisting dialogue might escape those unaccustomed with Sheridan’s work.

Yet even to an untrained ear, such precise comic-timing and wit, combined with the timeless motif of upper-class hypocrisy ensure that the laughs come thick and fast.

For a play of such subtlety, it is also refreshing to see director Amanda Knott has not forsaken the action; highlighted in the genuinely impressive, and impossibly confined fencing scenes between Robinson and Parish.

In the fast-paced, cynical world of the 21st Century, many believe that the bawdy, cavalier comedies of the past have had their day. Zounds! It is a testament to Creative Cow that in a single evening, such aspersions can be turned on their head.

* The Rivals is at the Rosemary Branch Theatre in Shepperton Road, N1, until Sunday. Call 020 7704 6665.

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