DVD Review: The Rivals , Bristol Old Vic

“Female punctuation forbids me to say more”

Not a huge amount of travelling for me this weekend but I’ve still got a big pile of DVDs to work my way through and so this Sunday evening, I sat down to this filmed version, by Heritage Theatre, of RB Sheridan’s The Rivals from the 2004 Bristol Old Vic production. It’s a rather popular play, we’ve seen a wickedly anarchic and amusing Celia Imrie-starring version at the Southwark Playhouse and a more traditional but impeccably acted version from Peter Hall in London in the last couple of years, so I was intrigued to see what this Rachel Kavanaugh-directed interpretation brought to the table.

It is an unfussy, uncluttered production – Peter MacKintosh’s evocative design making great use of perspective – which feels incredibly inclusive, even through the medium of film. Kavanaugh has her actors including the audience as an extra participant in all conversations so it feels we are constantly being confided in and party to all the gossip. It also helps that it is very well filmed, the quality is sharp and clear, there’s little unnecessary camera trickery or shots panning out to the audience, instead it focuses on a simple but strong representation of the action on stage, with key close-ups in all the right places: probably one of the best filmed theatre DVDs I’ve watched in that respect.

Performance-wise, Selina Cadell plays Mrs Malaprop rather straightly, not pushing the humour but rather presenting a seriousness to this woman which heightens the tragic humour, especially in the brutal (for her) final scene which is almost crushing. Anna Madeley is rather excellent as the vivacious Lydia Languish and well matched by Elisabeth Dermot-Walsh’s Julia – both bringing something of a modernity to this period piece which works extremely well.

Martin Hutson is pretty spectacular as the neurotic Faulkland and Adam Rayner – a man who is far too handsome for his own good – is heaps of fun as the young Absolute. In the rest of the ensemble Carli Norris stood out with her sparky knowingness and I very much enjoyed Paul Reynolds’ Fag, though I wasn’t much keen on Dylan Charles’ Bob Akers, a difficult buffoonish part to pull off and James Hayes’ O’Trigger is just not a character I much like in the play full stop.

I rented this particular DVD as I was interested in seeing it, but I can’t really imagine this being something people return to time and time again and therefore buying. But with its fascinating interview with Rachel Kavanaugh talking about her approach to the play and the quality of the recording, I would say it would be an ideal educational resource for drama groups and/or teachers thinking about putting on the play or studying it.


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