The Citizens Theatre
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
As the audience filled into the lavishly decorated stalls looking up to see balcony and high ceiling the massive stage was busy with props such as tables and chairs but also alternate clothing rails with what looks like fancy and expensive clothing. The acting began before the play in a way that let us in with a welcoming and relaxed feeling easing us into the heightened evening’s performance.
Dialogue began introducing three characters who were dressed in finery that was French in appearance, in a period where the story of ‘the Rivals’ was set, as rich as though you were there in France. In a sporadic way, or seemingly so, the stage comes to life as a space that was enticingly able to vary its character. First of the scenes suggest to us a drama of large proportions that the backdrop carried. We were invited to observe the stage as an interchangeable medium localised into French stylish fancies.
Classical dialogue ensued well where the characters dress would implicate their positions in society but also in the play. It did a dance between poetry, poetic meaning, and the clause of word of mouth to be acted upon. Self-reflection became a clear motive from about the third act on, as the musical nature of the players who moved in ways to enhance the visual spectacle, now undoubtedly unfolding into the story of love that takes many to understand, undoubtedly a motive for each and every conversation.
One can take two or three steps back during the action and dialogue that played with word, feeling and suggested themes of honour that were particularly bestowed upon the Captain Jack character; who was played well by a soft spoken Rhys Rusbatch an accomplished actor since his days at learning and with the Royal Shakespeare Company. The idea behind looking at characters in this way was no less than a brilliant ploy that moves faster and into better and better shapes we could only see in joy. There was also a very distinct comedic rhetoric that the audience really appreciated and is an inherent part of this style of theatre script.
The introduction of the character Lydia Languish played by experienced actress Lucy Briggs-Owen would have stolen the show from the very beginning if she had not been so taught, and had a semi innocent brashness moving from ecstasy to laying her comedic self upon the stage floor. The backdrop provided their separating function well, partly because of the sheer size of the stage, and because they moved the feelings of the scenes and thus coincided with the acting and dialogue. This was another display of experience and adherence to the idea that is the art of playmaking including a side splitting aw that serious acting can spring from.
Lively, active, poetically sincere; a mesh of characters that helped play the field that ultimately was all dedicated to the course of love between well matched couples. The play was served to a great extent by enhancement of everything that went into it, including a distinct emotional bond that had a wealth to it in the form of taking us along for the ride. In the jovial play of characters was the Welshman Bob Acres played by Lee Mengo who was a strong character though fraught with weakness and then actively participated in a great crescendo of the play where comedy tied together meaning for character and the unfolding discourse.
An element of persuasion does dominate the sense of scenes but it was never despaired upon in more reflective moments. On the theme of reflecting it was Sir Anthony Absolute’s character who offered sense to dialogues but he too developed a dodgy sense of humour as he guides the play into a sense of Captains Jacks honour as a man. Mrs Malaprop (the most comedic name), played by Julie Legrand had perhaps the largest role in her fancy costumes, she wore two dresses one red the other lilac. To call this play expert would I think be missing the point of an evening such as this. There was a touch of pantomime but it was only a hint of it because the play was more seriously governed as a play to contend with and in the quality behind it. Mrs Malaprop was the device behind the desire that Captain Jack and Lydia who languish should become together in love; a sentiment which she was not alone in. At certain times we could see her solitude, lending her a grace that we could also appreciate.
The most luxurious character had to be Lucy played by Lily Donovan who is a recent graduate from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. In her we saw the drama of the evening unfold through her heartfelt reasoning and bargaining. We followed her around the stage as she grew in the hearts of us, telling no jokes but also living no lie but to heed the voice of her powerful character. This gave the theme of love a very level direction on the strengths of her alone.
Larger than life, characters, costumes, props, backdrops; this is a night that will hold your attention, marry you to the stage, love the characters, relish in the heady dialogue laugh out loud at the absurd treatment of some of the dialogue and general sense of the play. Be impressed at the sense of ease, excitement, sometimes enthralling atmosphere of word, language accent delivery, and genuine sense of love that is ultimately where every point turns to. Come along to the Citizens for an evening of entertainment that may enthral you.
Reviewer : Daniel Donnelly