The Rivals, Theatre Review. Playhouse Theatre, Liverpool.

Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating 9/10

Cast: Desmond Barrit, Nicholas Bishop, Lucy Briggs-Owen, Lily Donovan, Keith Dunphy, Henry Everett, Jessica Hardwick, Julia Legrand, Lee Mango, Shaun Miller, Rhys Rusbatch.

One of 18th Centuries Europe’s finest wits and tamer of words never truly gets the praise he deserves in modern society, it is to be enemy of Time when figures such as Richard Sheridan are venerated and applauded by 21st Century audiences and readers of his work but to whom never seem to see the plays due to the length of the production and the fear of producers to take them beyond the boundaries of London.

The Rivals is a match for any of the 17th, 18th and 19th Century comedies and it is one that deserves the very finest of detailed attention, to listen in astounded awe of the use of rich language and absurdly teasing play is to feel invited into one of the great minds since Shakespeare.

The perfect antidote to teenage angst is captured with unnerving precision in Lucy Briggs-Owen’s portrayal of Lydia Languish, not so much Made in Chelsea but Fashioned in Fulham, the West-End drama queen to whom the play would flounder slightly without the tantrums and the delicate silk look eyes as they roll wildly in time with the narrative and distinctive speech patterns. Much comedic joy is to be taken from this version and the interplay between Ms. Briggs Owen, Rhys Rusbatch as Captain Absolute and the superb Julie Legrand as Mrs. Malaprop is tremendously uproarious and elegantly irreverent.

The sheer scope of the play is one that revels in the use of language, a cheeky respect for the intelligence of the writer and the minds of the audience who understandably feel warmth in the parallels that are to be seen in some modern courtships and allusions to the flirtatious in Georgian England, this is the courteous damned with ridicule and it is one that is positively to be encouraged and persuaded to advance.

Sheridan’s wit is framed with dedication and skill by the direction of Dominic Hill and the huge cast makes the evening one in which heartens the soul, a comical, entertaining, superbly witty and splendid attraction, Richard Sheridan’s writing is never better than when treated with love and attention to detail and the consideration that it can, as Ms. Briggs Owen shows with ample ingenuity, be taken up a sizeable notch.

A production of high regard, The Rivals is a match for any competing challenge of modern comedy.

Ian D. Hall