This Comedy of Manners was Sheridan’s first play and was considered to be one of his masterpieces, even coining the reference “Malapropism” taken from the famous character Mrs Malaprop – a moralistic widow. Set in Bath in the 18th Century, a town that was legendary for conspicuous consumption, fashion and wealth; The Rivals centres around the story of two young lovers, Lydia and Jack, infatuated with their alter egos that they portray to each other, whilst also poking fun at the upper classes and their social etiquettes.
As soon as you enter the auditorium you are taken back through song. The light melodic tones on the Harpsichord are heard over the speakers, inviting you in. This was coupled with a few members of the cast, in character, greeting audience members and even having Lucy deliver the standard “please turn off your mobile phones” message, again perfectly in character.
Director Andrew Millward, who also made an appearance as Thomas the Coachman, clearly put a lot of thought into how to convey this almost 250 year old play to a 21st Century audience. There were a couple of instances where references to modern society and pop culture were made; a fist bump handshake and a homage to Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”. They were perfectly considered and executed but unfortunately with so few similar references, felt a little out of place and didn’t have the desired impact overall.
For a cast of 13 it was delightful to see lots of great performances, too many to talk about individually, but all must be commended for their strong and varied characters. However special mention must go to Lucy, played brilliantly by Barbara Hardwick, who had great stage presence with expert comic timing throughout. There was always a twinkle in her eye which told you she was up to mischief!
Other notable performances were given by Heidi Hamber, who played Lydia Languish; Russell Winsor, Sir Anthony Absolute and Michael Howard, Faukland (the applause after his first appearance was very much deserved!). Although everyone held their character throughout, projected clearly and had excellent diction, the 3-aforementioned had exceptional rapport with the audience which helped to invest in them completely.
It is a shame, however, that there was an issue with the stage right door during the first half but the cast dealt with it professionally and didn’t let it deter from their scenes. Thankfully this was rectified in the interval and was no longer a problem afterwards.
Away from the cast, a nod must be directed towards the tech team. Although the set was kept minimal, there were many scene changes throughout and all were handled with speed and precision by a team that had clearly planned, choreographed and rehearsed the changes to a very high standard – well done!
Although not the societies fault, the length of the play did detract from the all round enjoyment towards the end; there were a few tired eyes in the audience! This is something that hampered the play even in 1775 and required a rewrite from Sheridan 11 days after first opening. That said you can’t take away from the sheer hard work and energy that Kelvedon Players put into this production. It was very much a labour of love and it was great to see that radiating from everyone on stage.
If you are passionate about plays, especially the “less obvious” ones then this society deserves your patronage. Do keep an eye out for their Autumn 2017 production of “Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay!” by Dario Fo.