Review – The Rivals, Theatre Royal Haymarket, December 29th

The RivalsWe always like a trip to London during the Christmas break, and a major part of this is getting half price tickets for something at the TKTS booth. There were two shows I fancied seeing – and this was one of them. I’ve never seen a proper production of The Rivals though of course I had read it as a student. My memory of it was that it was good, but not as good as The School for Scandal or The Critic. And having seen a decent production of it now, I think I was right.

Penelope KeithThe big draw for this production is the To The Manor Born coupling of Penelope Keith as Mrs Malaprop and Peter Bowles as Sir Anthony Absolute. And an excellent couple they do make. Penelope Keith in particular keeps her scenes moving at an excellent pace, Peter Bowles making the most of her malapropisms whilst still being a real character at heart. Occasionally we felt that Peter Bowles was phoning it in, but he was still entertaining to watch.

Rhys Jennings One person I was well-impressed with was Rhys Jennings, who was understudying the role of Bob Acres the night we saw it. A very solid performance, getting lots of laughs!

I wasn’t that impressed with the set though. It cleverly reminds you of the Royal Crescent in Bath, which is of course where the play is set; but it also reminded me of a bullring, and I’m not sure that’s appropriate – the play’s hardly torturing its characters to death. The lack of natural scenery made the constant picking up and putting down of furniture between scenes rather tedious. I would have preferred a few regency stripes. But that’s just me.

Theatre Royal HaymarketOne thing about using the half price booth – lots of other people do too, so the best seats we could get were row S of the stalls. Felt quite a long way back, and the Haymarket doesn’t offer massive leg room (none whatsoever in those seats); so the fact that the two and a half hours flies by without checking your watch must mean they’re doing something right.