A curse upon unreserved seating! A pox upon thine playhouse! The rivalry for seats bits of bench at the otherwise wonderful Southwark Playhouse‘s production of The Rivals last night proved more intense than anything the Whingers will ever see on a stage.
Were there a lot of Germans in the audience on Tuesday night? Ersatz beach towels in the form of scarves and coats were draped across swathes of seating. “I’m reserving five seats!” explained one woman, channelling Mrs Malaprop’s hauteur, but presumably she had lived here long enough to lose her accent and therefore break the habit.
The auditorium filled to capacity and then some more people arrived. The staff implored us: “Could you squeeze up a bit?” Er, no, we couldn’t actually. Even with Andrew’s newly gym-honed carcass and Phil’s buttocks clenched as tight as a fringe theatre’s budget there really wasn’t room for another. A gentleman was pushed onto the end of our row nonetheless and quite how he perched on one buttock for the not-far-short-of three hours we shall never know. I suppose we could have asked.
Yes, it was uncomfortable at the Playhouse which must surely be in some kind of droll competition with the Menier to see who can seat the most people in the least comfort. We support Mister Shenton’s recent whinging on the matter. And as we may have mentioned, the problem with Richard Brinsley Sheridan‘s play is that it is very long. There would be an uproar if livestock were treated like this. The EU really should step in.
Fortunately director Jessica Swale has assembled a terrific ensemble cast whose perkiness and enthusiasm make the evening almost tolerable.
We’ll have to be honest and admit that we struggled during the first half. Sheridan’s convoluted plotting and overdone (as it seems to us) flowery language failed to overcome the heat (yes!) and discomfort of the auditorium. Had we bothered to open the programme* we might have benefited from the synopsis kindly provided but we didn’t so we struggled.
However, an interval drink served by the lovely bar staff perked the Whingers up and numbed their buttocks so that during the second half they were revived and as alert as they ever are.
Harry Hadden-Paton (a godson of the real Fergie, the Duchess of York, as everyone knows) is superb as the dashing Captain Jack Absolute and there’s s a star-making comic turn from Christopher Logan who gives a hilarious performance with his comedic west country accent (we do hope it’s not his own; Andrew insists he’s Irish) as Bob Acres. Celia Imrie (our main reason for attending, if we’re honest) is everything you would want Celia Imrie to be and brings a rather affecting vulnerability to Mrs Malaprop.
And on that subject: were we the only ones to find ourselves frequently puzzled as to which word Mrs Malaprop was aiming for? We got “the very pineapple of politeness” but are still scratching our heads over “female punctuation forbids me to say more”.
What else? Well, there’s also a beautifully simple set by Cara Newman, some musical interludes culminating in a nod to Adam Ant and some amusing business involving the audience.
And only one disappointment: now, we respect the budgetary constraints within which the Southwark Playhouse operates, but surely the production could have stretched to a wig for Mrs Malaprop – sticking a few pink feathers in her hair was a bit of a disappointment. Where’s Richard Mawbey when you need him? Doesn’t have ever have wig sales where the fringe can pick up seconds and slightly damaged rugs for a song?
As it turns out, the Gay-O-Meter – still warm from its exertions at Six Degrees and Little Dog – could have been left at home as this play was unfashionably heterosexual. Only a reference to a “gay captain” and and a character called Fag produced a modest flutter from the Whingers’ over-sensitive gizmo.
The biggest laugh of the evening though was in the bar when the Whingers’ wonderful companion Dame Angela of Audience Club scrutinised Phil’s visage and asked, “Have you had Botox?” What could she mean? Was it her own malapropism? Like a few of Mrs Malaprop’s lines the Whingers couldn’t work out what the original word could be. Bovril? Or had she scrambled a whole sentence and meant “You do talk bollox”?
* Full marks to the Playhouse for imaginatively producing a rather clever programme in the shape of an 18th century newspaper “The Bath Chronicle” and for including a synopsis of the confusing plot.
Cavil on Rating
This new rating system could mean the death of the Whingers. Not literally. Well, possibly literally. Tempers have frayed, sulks entered into. This review has been sitting around for AGES due to a disagreement over the rating. Andrew insisted it was a four; Phil a three. Neither Whinger has budged an inch for three days. It’s a face-off. Andrew – ever the diplomat – suggested having two ratings – one each. Phil dismissed this on the grounds that the rating system was “confusing enough already” with the instruction: “just concede for once”. Don’t be surprised if the new rating system quietly disappears.