>the rivals by the stage club

>reviewed by marcus tan

>date: 7 may 2003
>time: 8pm
>venue: the dbs arts centre
>rating: ***

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


The Stage Club's recent production of 18th century English playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan's THE RIVALS is an uncommon staging of a not-so-uncommon play.

Sheridan's THE RIVALS, first performed in 1775, is a comedy of errors that ridicules the sentimentalities of sentimental comedy. Written as a satire about romantic pursuit and chivalric courtship in the fashion of Shakespeare's comedies such as 'The Comedy of Errors' and 'Twelfth Night', THE RIVALS follows the love-quests of Captain Absolute, Lydia Languish, Faulkland, and Julia whose romantic fantasies are sought (and found) in mistaken identities and disguised personas.

Wealthy Captain Jack Absolute disguises himself as impoverished Ensign Beverly in the hopes of winning fair maiden Lydia Languish's hand. Lydia is, as her name implies, addicted to sentimental romances and has her heart set on marrying a poor man. Complications arise as Mrs Malaprop, Lydia's aunt, and Jack's father, Sir Anthony, decide that the young lady should marry Absolute rather than Beverly. Humour ensues when recognition confronts misrecognition and all the other characters are drawn into the whirligig of pretence. Mrs Malaprop herself assumes the name Delia and corresponds with her secret lover, Sir Lucius O'Trigger. Her servant Lucy convinces Sir Lucius that Delia is Lydia and he is thus convinced he is in love with Lydia while Malaprop thinks Lucius is in love with her. Swords are drawn in the final climactic moments as disguises are revealed and the truth unveiled - in full Shakespearean style. Misunderstandings are resolved; every Jack has his Jill, and naught goes ill.

>>'Apart from the odd coupling of archaic syntax and aloha costumes, the production was an enjoyable visual treat'

Every staging of a dramatic text is an act of re-imagination and re-presentation. In The Stage Club's version, under the direction of Daniel Toyne, Sheridan's distinctively English characters were removed from the 18th century English town of Bath and relocated on an island getaway - Sheridan's resort on Bath island. Such a transposition was made with the intention of "making theatre relevant" (director's message, programme booklet). While the setting had been transformed, the language, characters, and relationships remained unchanged.

Even as this culturally and contextually transposed performance was refreshing and inventive, there existed a tension between the verbal text (of 18th century syntax and speech patterns) and the scenographic text. At points in the play, it seemed as though Sheridan's English characters were merely out on a summer holiday in Bintan or Batam. Such irresolvable disjunctures often exist in intercultural performances where the dramatic text confronts new contexts. This is not to say, however, that these "archaic" texts can achieve authenticity and meaning only by keeping faithful to their historical and culturally specific contexts. But it is important that cultural translation in performance occurs at deeper levels of performativity and is not merely a superficial scenic makeover.

Toyne seemed to have recognised these strains in the fabric of contextual displacement by having the actors begin the play clad in period costume standing in tableaux before "dressing down" to their summertime beach wear. The actors returned to the stage dressed as 18th century characters again in the final moments of the play when the knots of romance were untangled. This direction gestured at a traversing of the play's recognisable concerns across time and place.

Apart from the odd coupling of archaic syntax ("adieus" and "good morrows") with aloha costumes, the production was an enjoyable visual treat. The colourful and intricately designed set transformed the stage into a charming and believable resort. The scene changes were fluent and effective due to the intelligent use of space.

The actors were credible in portraying their characters and commendable in remembering and delivering a difficult text, though it has to be said that the occasional verbal slip or misquote was evident. Jane Grafton did well to incite much humour in her depiction of Mrs Malaprop. The character of an uptight, inhibited, upper-middle class English woman, getting on in years, who constantly and unintentionally misuses and mispronounces her words was convincingly portrayed by Grafton. Grafton's natural-sounding accent and gentrified gestures (which included having a Jack Russell for a pampered pet) lent credibility and amusement to Malaprop's malapropisms. Graham Stimpson as Sir Anthony, and Jim Hill who played Lucius O'Trigger were equally humorous in their exaggerated and characteristically "English" portrayals.

The depiction of the leading characters failed, however, in comparison. While the characters' names are supposed to reflect their personalities, Amelia Marsh did not quite evoke the languishing nature of Lydia. She was often too soft and her yearning for Beverly was seemingly absent. However, Marsh warmed up to her role in the second half of the play when Absolute's disguise was revealed. David Stewart took some time to find certainty in the character of Jack Absolute as well. While Stewart's posture was uncompromisingly absolute, his words were often muted and spoken at high-speeds, which made it hard to understand him.

Sustaining the energy of the performance and engaging the audience was no mean feat and the performance did not always achieve these goals. There were scenes in which the play seemed sluggish and heavy, with little forward motion. One could also sense that the actors, at times, failed to engage in the performativity of the moment. Despite these shortcomings, THE RIVALS was an entertaining and refreshing production that was visibly different from the existing goods in the market.