The Rivals WEB

The Rivals

by Richard Brinsley Sheridan

23 March – 1 April 2023

One of the best-known 18th century comedies of manners, Sheridan’s first play, and still his most popular. Lydia Languish, a young woman from a good family, holds to an impossible romantic ideal of love, and resolves only to marry a pauper. So Jack Absolute pretends to be a poor soldier in order to win her hand. Meanwhile, Jack’s father is attempting to procure the match through the proper channel of Lydia’s guardian, and Jack becomes a rival to himself, before he is finally challenged to duels by rival suitors in both his identities…

rivals web

Photos: Gail Bishop


Sir Anthony Absolute Peter Damesick
Captain Jack Absolute Bram Stein
Faulkland Jay Rolfe
Bob Acres Robin Clark
Sir Lucius O’Trigger   Jamie Heath
Fag   Chris Hearn
David   John Shepherd 
Tomás   Rubén Remón
Mrs Malaprop   Heather Wain
Lydia Languish   Jen Allum
Julia Melville   Lucinda Banton
Lucy   Pamela Cuthill
Servants and Maids   Ted Cullen
    Joshua Lewis
    Dillon Patel
    Saria Simbo
Director Tony Richardson


March 2023

Theo Spring

It was 1961 when Fenella Fielding’s performance as Lydia Languish at The Pembroke Theatre, Wellesley Road, Croydon, first introduced me to The Rivals. I remember the production clearly and have had a soft spot for Sheridan’s comic tale of confusions of the heart ever since. 

Mike Bell’s set design here at The Miller ingeniously allowed the variety of scenes to flow seamlessly one into the next, aided in no small part by apt back projections and furniture and scenery moved by a bevy of servants and maids, each kitted out in relevant costume. 

Set in 18th Century Bath, where the hoy polloi of London Society went to take the waters, the tale revolves around the considerable deception of characters pretending to be someone else, either in person or through letter-writing, a maid who feigns to be a simpleton whilst all the while pulling the strings of those she serves to her pecuniary advantage, a couple with a very on/off relationship and general mayhem and misunderstandings.

Pamela Cuthill as Lucy, the clever maid, opens and closes the show with an informative prologue and epilogue, letting us, the audience, into the secrets of her accumulative wealth during the show. A lovely role, very well delivered, alternating between the submissive and acquisitive servant.

It is Jenny Allum as Lydia Languish and Bram Stein as Captain Jack Absolute around whom the centre of the tale revolves. Effectively revealing the influence upon her ideas of romance by the ‘penny dreadfuls’ Lydia surreptitiously reads, Jenny showed a notable ability to turn from happy romantic to ill-tempered annoyance when she was thwarted. Jack is tasked with pretending to be the lowly Ensign Lydia dreams of loving, whilst in truth is the well to do son of Sir Anthony, and Bram’s dual characterisations, sometimes switching on a sixpence (or that may be a farthing as a similar size in those days), added much to the comedy of the piece. 

Suffering from gout and brooking absolutely no defiance against his wishes, Peter Damesick’s Sir Anthony Absolute was brusque and demanding. Elegant and beautifully bewigged, he epitomised the paternal expectations of that era in planning a marriage for his son to Lydia – little knowing that the pair were already in love. 

It was with Lydia’s Aunt that these plans were made. The aunt being one of Sheridan’s renown comic characters – Mrs Malaprop. Here, Heather Wain tripped all the many malapropisms lightly off the tongue, making sure to reap their full comedy intention. Who could forget the aunt’s explanation of her niece that "she's as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile". Coquettish when speaking of her matrimonial hopes with Sir Lucius O’Trigger, angry that her niece would not, initially,  go along with plans made for her future with Captain Jack and furious when finding herself heavily maligned in a letter from Ensign Jack to Lydia. There are other matrimonial plans within the play. Faulkland and Julia Melville have their ups and downs with Jay Rolfe a romantically-uncertain Faulkland and Lucinda Banton, a discontented but loving Julia. More complications beset gentlemen deceived in the ladies they believe they are wooing. Jamie Heath as Sir Lucius who believed his correspondent ‘Delia’ to be Lydia, only to find it was Mrs Malaprop and Robin Clark adding his own distinctive comedy style as Bob Acres, a country gentleman who is yet another suitor to Lydia. 

The gentlemen of the tale all have their servants of course, and here Chris Hearn was Fag, Rubén Rémón was Tomás and John Shepherd, David. 

Wardrobe for this costume drama was in the hands of Paula Richardson and Nigel Kemp and the Fight Director Emma Christmas. Choreography for the joyful final dance was by Penny Parker.  There were some impressive wigs worn but I would have preferred Captain Jack’s natural long hair to have been dressed in some fashion, as it would have been in Bath. 

Directed with great skill by Tony Richardson, the play was very well received and for me, it was a real delight to see it once again.