The Rivals

Tue 9th – Sat 13th August 2011

reviews

Fen Greatley

at 10:39 on 11th Aug 2011

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Sheridan's 'Restoration comedy of manners' was here presented in the traditional over-the-top style, drawing on the inherent comedy and drama within the plotline to entertain. This proved an overall wise decision for this American High School Theatre Fesival cast of mixed ability from Tennessee; however, while this cunningly conceals and even embraces tendencies towards the overacting, it leaves nowhere for the wooden to hide.

The Rivals revolves around the complex love life of Lydia Languish, whose many suitors ultimately meet in a showdown to compete for her hand.

Many of the initial scenes were garbled, the brisk, sharp, matter-of-fact tone taken too far. Mrs Malaprop (Harley Walker) and Lydia Languish (Kayetlyn Jones), in doing this, seemed nervous and took a while to settle. They oughtn't to have done, since they were the strongest two in this performance, alongside William Fahrnbach's Captain Absolute.

Walker's Malaprop was delightfully quaint and magnificently well-conducted, her clipped tones deliciously twee. She immersed herself commendably in both the period and the character, a seemingly chatty, seemingly ditzy, but altogether quite sharp aunt. She mellowed well as time went by, allowing her flirtations to develop into something more fulfilling.

Fahrnbach explored his character in depth, maneouvring many areas of the emotional spectrum with apparent ease. There was never any doubt that he would turn events to his advantage.

Kayetyln Jones was simply solid and measured, just managing not to be ironic upon her protestations at being expected to go “simpering up the aisle.”

Other cast members were sadly much weaker, with only a couple of redeeming features; there was some good comprehension and rounded deliverance of comedy from Sir Anthony, whose foot stamps were nice. The Julia that I saw - understudy Sarada Kolli – was, to be polite, dead weight. She barely moved, did nothing to convey any kind of emotion and failed to react to anything. Perhaps this was the only anachronism of the piece: a robot.

I found the cast's accents somewhat distracting; unless their execution is skillful and they can be maintained, they should be abandoned for fear of smacking of student theatre. Here, Fahrnbach's was particularly exemplary and had me questioning his nationality for the first ten minutes, but those who tried and failed were worse than those who didn't dare to try. A low point was the frustrating American pronunciation of 'adieu' as 'ado'.

The script was seemingly unedited and felt slightly long, losing pace and becoming complacent as it continued. Many of the monologues, some of which were, admittedly, well handled, could have been reduced or cut completely; other, presumably explanatory scenes to explain the presence of Lydia's other suitors would have made more sense.

If it weren't for the bell tinkle at the end of every scene, I would have nodded off.

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Ryan Sarsfield

at 10:55 on 11th Aug 2011

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The Webb School have revived Sheridan’s The Rivals for the 2011 Fringe and they make a decent effort of it. Despite the lack of set, lighting and music (something which could’ve created some welcome extra atmosphere) the whole cast manage to adequately convey the sense of what they are performing with minimal help.

The Rivals, however, turns out to be a two (maybe three) actor play. Ryan Pryor shines in the lead as Captain Absolute. He takes control of his role with strong characterization and great stage presence. He becomes his role, feeling both suitably caddish and likeable and his comic asides to the audience are delivered with precise timing. Also impressive is Kayetlyn Jones. She performs with perfect exaggeration befitting her role as the petulant and spoilt Lydia Languish. Also notable is Harley Walker’s Mrs Malaprop who, despite needing to slow down her speech a lot, manages precise but fluid movement across the stage and delivers some wonderfully caustic lines.

The Webb School are performing as part of the American High School Theatre Festival and some of them make a really impressive effort of affecting an English accent. Nonetheless, William Fahrnbach’s (Sir Anthony Absolute) propensity to replace ‘it does not’ with ‘it don’t’ starts to grate and Sam Fuller provides a mix of American, cockney, and RP accents in the same character. Not all the actors attempt to change their accents and I would advise those struggling to also drop the accent. Whilst attempts at authenticity are quaint and extremely effective when done well, when not perfect, a poor accent can act as an impediment to performance. Moreover, the narrative clarity of this complex comedy would be vastly enhanced if all actors slowed down their dialogue and enunciated more clearly – part of what made Captain Absolute so strong is the fact that he was clearly audible.

The decision to cast male roles with females was clearly down to company constraints. This worked with varying success. Whilst highlighting the foppish elements of such characters, and playing up to the play’s farcical comic elements, I couldn’t help but feel that Sir Lucius and Du Paigne were too feminine and thus an element of gender confusion was introduced which was incongruous to the script. Resultantly the presentation of the maleness of both wasn’t caricatured enough.

The Rivals has potential to be good, whilst the lead roles are by far the strongest aspect of the play, all actors show moments of expressiveness which, if sustained, could substantially bring up the standard of the performance.

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