The Rivals

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

Neil Cooper

four stars

IF EVER there was a play more perfectly suited to accommodate the Citizens Theatre's artistic director Dominic Hill's stylistic penchant for turning a play visibly inside out, so it appears to take place backstage, Richard Brinsley Sheridan's eighteenth century comedy of manners is hard to beat. In a work that puts social pretence at its heart, it seems fitting that we see the cast put on their wigs and elaborately powdered face masks even as they set the scene for Sheridan's similarly multi-layered romp around the houses of Bath en route to true love. And if the assorted picture frames that fly in and out with assorted painted backdrops are as artificial as the mirrors are empty of glass on designer Tom Rogers' set, the point about how looks can be deceptive is made even clearer.

The person most keen on keeping up appearances is Mrs Malaprop, played here by Julie Legrand as a tragicomic grand dame intent on bringing the most well-heeled of gentlemen callers to her niece Lydia Languish's door. Lucy Briggs-Owen doesn't so much play Lydia as unleashes her as a trash fiction-addicted rich girl straight out of Made in Chelsea, whose every OTT exclamation is punctuated by a question mark. As various comic grotesques attempt to woo her, Lydia's sentimental fondness for the common people sees her fall for a poor soldier boy who turns out to be Rhys Rusbatch's far more well-heeled Captain Jack Absolute.

Jessica Hardwick's Julia may be prim by comparison, but she too is deceived in love by Nicholas Bishop's paranoid Faulkland in a play where image is everything. Fun is had with such a superficial notion throughout this co-production between the Citz, Bristol Old Vic and Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse. The second act's wordless opening even makes taking an anachronistic Polaroid look like the province of dirty old men who Mrs Malaprop so mistakenly and magnificently immortalises as “Bavarians.” In the end, it is the women who win the day, without any fakery required.