As I'd recently interviewed Danny Moar, the very personable director of Bath Theatre Royal, and heard all about his commissioning policy for the Main House, I was keen to see the high-profile production picked to launch their autumn season after the grand refurbishment. Sheridan’s The Rivals boasts three huge names: director Peter Hall and national telly-treasures Penelope Keith and Peter Bowles. Yes, folks, it could have been dire, despite – or because of – a full house audience rattling their jewellery in appreciation. But it wasn’t. (I’ll rephrase this for the review btw). Much credit goes to the stunningly simple set evoking 18th Century Bath merely by a sweeping crescent, mellow lighting and minimal props, and to the fabulous costumes in lavish fabrics and gorgeous muted tones. An A-list cast helped too. Penelope Keith as Mrs Malaprop did full justice to the linguistic absurdities which have immortalised her character but it was left mainly to the men to carry the energy of the story and convey the comedy, both satirical and slapdash. Tony Gardner as melancholic Faulkland was particularly charismatic, though Gerard Murphy’s Lucius O’Trigger seemed awkward in his role of Irish firebrand, perhaps prevented by 21st Century PC to fully inhabit the potential humour of the role. With a running time of nearly 3 hours, the production needed the lift of its unscripted witty additions: like the whores who whisked Jack away as soon as he’d finished wooing silly Lydia, and his Tom Cruise style passionate bouncing on the sofa. The overt theme of Sheridan’s play is rivalry in love, but a modern, reality-TV-aware, audience will find more fascination in the lewd hypocrisy of an era of class extremes - and the recognition that not much has changed. Stilted direction tended to present the action a series of tableaux, but this only enhanced the underlying self-seeking and isolation of these richly indulged socialites. Funny, yes, but a comedy of cruelty rather than of manners.
Thursday saw the Merlin re-launch: new season, new programme, new direction. New director Claudia Berry talked about the new initiatives at Frome's community theatre, including the innovative concept of Poetry Platter - a kind of faux-site-specific intimate theatre, with the stage transformed into a continental-style café so the tapas-nibbling audience are participants too, while entertained by six very different - all excellent - local poets. Do book at: Merlin to experience and enjoy a highly unusual night.
And finally... don't you love the way these old words come back into fashion? Kindle, dwindled from its firelighting origin to a metaphorical cliche, has returned triumphant: Kindle books now outsell hardcovers at the ratio of 180 to 100, Amazon reports, and are predicted to outnumber and outsell paperbacks next year.
Well, anything that rekindles public interest in reading....