The Rivals, originally written by Richard Brinsley Sheridan in 1775, has been creatively reimagined by Ooook productions – jumping it forward into the excitement of the roaring twenties. This production, directed by Emily Winters, mixes the tradition of the original play with a silent movie-style flair to put their own energetic spin on the production.
The acting, while sometimes contrived, ties in nicely with the silent movie genre in all its flamboyancy and breathes life into what could be an otherwise outdated plot. The actors were all well-cast and brought clear personalities to the lively production. Several strong performances stood out in particular; Issy Flower as Mrs Malladrop in all her eccentricity brought an added layer of comedy to her scenes. Joining her was John Duffett (playing the elderly Sir Anthony Absolute), whose characterisation not only played well off the other actors but was unfalteringly immersive.
The main highlight was the intermittent silent movie segments. From the get-go we’re launched into the comedic energy of the production with a playful and well-choreographed first scene involving the hotel staff. These short scenes introduced new sub-plots to the play which had the audience rooting for characters despite the non-speaking nature of their roles. What particularly stuck out was the dynamic between ‘Thomas’ (Jude Wegerer) and ‘Boy’ (Cameron Gergett), who shared several scenes together and took us through comedy, drama and reconciliation in an enjoyable series.
Despite the generally fun and well-executed performances from all the actors in these scenes, perhaps the comedic star of the show was Henry Gould as ‘Head Maid’. His short intermissions were used effectively to create transitions between different sets, without interrupting the flow of the production.
Adding largely to the success of the silent movie-style twist to the play was the music, for which credit must go to musical director/composer Angus Shennan and the ensemble. Not only was the music well-played, but it encapsulated the mood of each scene and punctuated the performances of the actors – really bringing a sophistication to the show. It was a shame, I thought, that there wasn’t more use of the musicians, as their work really helped the play feel rooted in its style and complimented the production well.
There was a diversity between scenes created through even the simplest of changes – for instance the clever (and sometimes humorous) use of the numbers ‘6’ and ‘9’ on the door to indicate different rooms. The production team as a whole showed a strong resilience against gravity – handling a number of prop-related accidents and stumbles with professionalism and, when necessary, a good sense of humour.
Overall, Ooook Productions’ adaption of The Rivals has shown how an ambitious project can be pulled off with some fun, proving an entertaining watch with enough energy to give the storyline a refreshing twist of modernity. I will be interested to see what new ideas the company produce in future.
The Rivals is on at 7.30pm, Saturday 2.30pm and Saturday 7.30pm at Fountains Hall, Grey’s College.