I knew nothing of The Rivals before going to see it, so it was a delight that it turned out to be well worth seeing. After a slow start (perhaps forty minutes), its wit became more assured, particularly as the outstanding players took to and took over the stage. Captain Jack Absolute, Sir Anthony Absolute, Faulkland and especially Sir Lucius O’Trigger more than made up for some passable performances elsewhere (albeit in the minor roles). Overall, it’s very good. Go see it!
So what’s it all about, then? There’s an over-fanciful and much-fancied young lady called Lydia Languish, who seems to be in need of much drama and romance before she can consent to take a husband. Why half the men on the boards seem to long for her is beyond me as she’s so flighty that she left earth’s orbit on a spaceship inside her own head millennia ago. Since it is a comedy our Lydia takes great delight in relishing the romantic notion of eloping with a pauper, being disowned by her aunt and living pennilessly ever after.
She already has her eye on one such pauper, a spirited and earnest young lad who would do anything for love (including that). The trouble is that her aunt has intervened and stopped their letters from getting through. From this starting point, several rivals emerge. Her aunt, Mrs. Malaprop (from whom the word malapropism was coined), is a poseuse, considering herself a mistress of the English language. Of course, she mixes up dissimilar, but similar-sounding words almost every time she opens her mouth.
The Rivals first opened in Covent Garden in 1775. While Sheridan was born in Ireland, his family moved to England when he was only seven. Considering the play’s age and Sheridan’s early split from his country of birth, it may not be too much of a surprise that the sole Irish character, Sir Lucius O’Trigger, is more than a little bit dodgy comedy Irishman. He’s absolutely hilarious, though. It’s in the script and especially in the irreverent piss-take that the actor playing him is throwing in for good measure. It’s too bad that there isn’t enough of the sly, combative, romantic, belligerent, trigger-happy, honourable blackguard that is Sir Lucius O’Trigger. “Modesty is a quality in a lover more praised by the women than liked.”
If you’re convinced, I’d suggest skipping the option to have dinner included. It’s twelve euros extra to dine in the fine, spacious hall at the top of the theatre. It’s all very nice, unless you show up hungry. I ate the meal I’d ordered for two no-shows too and had room for plenty more afterwards. The starving would do better to spend that twelve euros in Zaytoon instead!