Entertainment Theatre & Arts

Tuesday 28 January 2020

An entertaining homecoming

The Rivals at Smock Alley Theatre
The Rivals at Smock Alley Theatre
Caoilfhionn Dunne

Richard Brinsley Sheridan's comedy of manners gets a most welcome outing in this delightful production. Sheridan is a hugely important figure in the Irish and British theatrical canons. It is obvious that Oscar Wilde learned much of his craft from this source. The Rivals has the disciplined focus of a pure comedy, but also manages to lob a few spirited spikes into then contemporary issues, including women's education and filial obedience. It is a superb satire on fashion in both hairdos and romance.

The play also occupies a significant place in the history of gender in the theatre. Sheridan, just 23 when he wrote it in 1775, is credited with inventing Mrs Malaprop, the pretentious aunt who gets her words mixed up, and gave the dictionary the term 'malapropism'. This wonderful creation is based on the character of Mrs Tryfort, who features in another comedy, A Journey to Bath, written by Sheridan's mother, the novelist Frances Sheridan.

Rejected by David Garrick at Drury Lane, it was unproduced. Only three acts of her five-act play survive. Some of the gags in The Rivals are a direct lift from it. The main story strand in The Rivals involves Captain Jack Absolute, who in wooing the capricious Lydia Languish, has pretended to be penniless in order to appeal to her romantic nature. This clandestine courtship involves letters being passed by servants.

Unknown to him and her, his father Sir Anthony Absolute and her aunt Mrs Malaprop have determined a match between them. The problem is that Lydia's contrary nature will ensure she does not want Jack once her relations all approve. There are a number of other rivals for Lydia's affection, to thicken the plot.

Director Liam Halligan wisely allows the playful text to shine in this graceful and well-judged production. The embellishment here is primarily in expressing the writing. The costumes by Miriam Duffy are an eclectic mix of anachronisms, and are full of colourful fun. The set design by Colm McNally is pretty and low-key.

Seamus Moran as the bombastic paterfamilias Sir Anthony Absolute is hugely entertaining. Tom Moran captures perfectly the handsome chancer aspect of Jack Absolute. There is a terrific performance from Colm O'Brien, doubling as Faulkland and Sir Lucius O'Trigger; the latter a louche, urbane Irishman who let his fine Munster land slip through his fingers.

Smock Alley Theatre is built on the site of a previous theatre which was run by Sheridan's father, the actor-manager Thomas Sheridan. The venue is beautifully used by Halligan, with some speeches delivered from the auditorium. This, combined with the three-sided steep rake, helps break down the formality of the mannered style and creates plenty of intimacy. The tone is set at the start by Aislinn O'Byrne as the scheming maid Lucy, with a very funny fire announcement, delivered in pastiche 18th Century rhyming couplets about iPhones. These players have gathered here to entertain you, and they certainly do.

Book it now


Bord Gáis Energy Theatre,  Dublin, Aug 29 – Sept 3

Composer Alan Menken provides the music for this stage show based on the movie starring Whoopi Goldberg. A diva witnesses a murder, and is hidden in a convent for her own protection, resulting in plenty of disco, Motown and funk.

2  STAR OF THE SEA                        

Town Hall Theatre, Galway  Sept 1 & 2

First seen at the Galway Arts Festival in 2014, Moonfish Theatre revive their well-received production of this famine-era play set on board a coffin ship, loosely adapted from Joseph O’Connor’s bestselling novel. In Irish and English, with music.


New Theatre, Dublin, Aug 28 – Sept 2

Two broke, bored actors with endless free time take the law into their own hands. A new play with a film noir feel. Written by Oisin McCartan, directed by Adam Byrne.

Stage whispers

ir Caoilfh (2).jpg
Caoilfhionn Dunne

Katie Roche by Teresa Deevy has its first preview tonight in the Abbey Theatre. It stars Caoilfhionn Dunne (pictured) and is directed by Caroline Byrne. This revival on the main stage of the National Theatre is the most high-profile result achieved by Waking the Feminists, the campaign that was sparked by the scarcity of women artists in the Abbey’s programme to commemorate the centenary of 1916.

Waterford playwright Deevy has recently been successfully resurrected by the Mint Theatre in New York but she is far from a household name (see p.15 for more on Deevy). Katie Roche was last performed in the Peacock in 1994, in a memorable production directed by Judy Friel and starring Derbhle Crotty. It was done on the Abbey main stage in 1975, directed by Joe Dowling, starring Jeananne Crowley. Lots of people were outraged at the figures produced by Waking the Feminists showing the scarcity of women’s writing in the big subsidised theatres. Will this outrage translate into ticket sales? Is the Abbey website jammed with feminists and friends trying to book for this neglected play?

Theatre is going through a cannibal phase. Writers and directors are busy cannibalising existing works to make new shows. Booking for the Dublin Theatre Festival is open and we are promised: Josephine K and the Algorithms, a contemporary riff by Stacy Gregg on Franz Kafka’s The Trial; Eugene O’Brien and Gavin Quinn are giving us The Good House of Happiness, described as a modern version of Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Person of Setzuan; there is Playboyz by Martin Sharry, a re-imagining of JM Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World; and Belinda McKeon, in collaboration with Annie Ryan, has created Nora, a new play after Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. Promoting new plays has become so difficult, it seems writers and companies are increasingly feeling the need for an umbilical attachment to a pre-existent classic.

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