Performed February 13th to 15th 2008
RIDING MILL'S RIVALS RISE TO THE CHALLENGE
By REBECCA DIXON
A TANGLED web of masquerades, love matches and romantic
idylls set in the picturesque village of Riding Mill.
Sheridan's masterpiece, The Rivals is, of course, the subject; its players, the Riding Mill Drama Club. The audience were treated to an 18th century setting as the parish hall had been transformed into an almost ‘in the round' style set. A platform stage ran down the middle of the hall, allowing the audience to be spitting distance from the action, creating an intimate and authentic atmosphere. The intricacies of this style of presentation were overcome with skill, and all the actors gave a fluid and mobile performance that never left one side of the stage with a ‘rear' view for long. The subject of the play is a complex tale of love rivals, most of whom are competing for the affections of one Lydia Languish, who as her name suggests is prone to some languishing of her own, with forbidden romantic novels. Angela Routledge took on the role of Lydia and she gave a suitably simpering performance, portraying the sensibilities of her character with aplomb.
Lydia has fallen for a poor sailor, Beverley, who is actually the wealthy seaman Captain Jack Absolute in disguise. Captain Jack was played with vigour by Rob Allcock, whose striding manner and strong delivery were well balanced by his cheeky expressions in the asides.
Allcock's delivery allowed for a good understanding of the complex language that modern day audiences are unaccustomed to and the whole cast should be praised for their attention to rise and fall in timbre that made the piece much easier to follow.
A memorable performance was given by Anne Lawrence, as Mrs Malaprop, whose ineptitude with the English language had the audience in stitches. Lawrence had all the haughtiness required of the society woman while her facial expressions allowed the audience to see through the affected speech, to the self-important but fundamentally simple character behind the veneer. As the plot unfolds the audience see a range of suitors pass before Lydia, including Bob Acres, the country bumpkin, and Sir Lucius O‘Trigger, the hot-headed Irishman. Ian Johnston, as Bob, was very funny as he fumbled his way around matters, allowing cowardice to rule his actions. Mike Smith kept up a good Irish lilt throughout his lines and the fire and passion of Sir Lucius and his readiness to fight were never far from the surface.
Accents throughout the play were well done, and the Somerset burr none more so than by Eileen Davidson, who played Lydia's maid. Davidson gave sharp contrast to the two facets of her character and both the feigned simpleton and the adroit and money-hungry schemer came over well as she manipulated the other characters into sharing their secrets with her.
The sub plot between Faulkland and Julia was well played out, if not a little boring at times. Faulkland's low self- esteem and constant need for reassurance result in him testing his fiancee who, fed up with his games, rejects him. Faulkland's desperation and weak character were well addressed by Mike Fry but his delivery was sometimes a little difficult to hear through the emotion. Julia, played by Jean Buckley, was not quite as flighty or dramatic as I had expected and was rather more whiny than I liked but this was an interesting interpretation of her character and was deftly performed. As is the case with all small companies, the cast must work with who they have available but both Julia and Lydia were perhaps a little mature for their intended 24 or so years and perhaps a little more attention to hair and make-up could have improved the illusion. Full compliments must go to the efforts put into staging and costumes.
The representational set was simple but effective and the maids and errand boy performed slick changes to the musical overtones of a piped string quartet. The performance by this small village company was excellent, every attention had been given to the finer details and the result was a very professional production. The play itself is very long, being five acts with lengthy stretches of speech in all scenes and while posteriors were slightly numb by the end, this was more the fault of the playwright than the director. Many congratulations go to the cast and production team who tackled this challenging piece with success.
Rebecca Dixon Hexham Courant