The Rivals, Norwich

CHARLES ROBERTS Plays by their nature are exercises in wordplay. Sheridan's The Rivals, however, enters another and more rarefied category.

CHARLES ROBERTS

Plays by their nature are exercises in wordplay. Sheridan's The Rivals, however, enters another and more rarefied category.

It is a joyous, sophisticated play upon words, a text in which words dance and dazzle and amuse, whirling lightly round that immortal scrambler of language, Mrs Malaprop.

Sadly, these classic virtues came through only in very small part in the British Actors Theatre Company last night at the Theatre Royal.


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Only on rare occasions did it truly take off, light as wit and laughter. For the most part, it was not so much an airy comic entity as a pile of theatrical building bricks, pushed together with no great feeling for pattern and effect.

But worse, much worse, so many of the words were lost in a welter of gabble and foggy diction.

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Even Kate O'Mara's Mrs Malaprop was guilty, depriving the audience of the full experience of one of theatre's comedic greats.

A pity, for Miss O'Hara is one of those actresses who is always a delight to watch, melding into characters and using every element of physical style and suggestion.

The two blithesome heroines of the piece do not help the picture. Miranda Floy's Lydia Languish is more a shrewish Kate than an 18th century young lady of quality. Maria Miles, as Julia, swallows consonants and vaporises vowels.

Michael Jayston as Sir Anthony Absolute and Mark Healy as his son Jack are among the stronger roles.

For style of language, one beams in on the exasperating Faulkland, whom Stash Kirkbride invests with a beautifully projected and effortlessly clear speaking voice.

There are some pleasures to be found in this production. But its lack of balance, right at the end of its tour, is hard to explain.

Director, Knight Mantell. The delightfully simple lighting and set designs are by Dickon O'Mara.

t The Rivals continues until Saturday October 5. Box office: 01603 630000.

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