A double dose of theatre

Spent yesterday afternoon and evening at two contrasting theatrical productions. First stop was The Rivals, Richard Sheridan’s 1775 comedy. I’d never seen or read this before, my exposure to Sheridan being largely limited to studying The School For Scandal for the HSC years ago. The touring production was originally sold largely on the presence of two British TV stars, Stephanie Cole and George Baker, as we can see here:

The original Rivals cast

However, in the event neither appeared. Baker has been replaced by fellow TV sleuth Edward Hardwicke, while Cole was ill and was ably replaced by her understudy Elsbeth Benjafield. This didn’t prove to matter much, since Cole’s role of Mrs Malaprop, while probably the play’s best-known, is actually a definite second-tier part. The dominant character is Captain Jack Absolute (shades of Torchwood, perhaps), played with Hugh Laurie-like flair by Nicholas Boulton.

I caught this production at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley, which despite being only 30 minutes from Victoria by train tends to attract touring productions designed for showing everywhere but London. The biggest issue with attending a matinee here (or anywhere, for that matter) is that you know half the audience will be bringing walking frames. Overall an enjoyable production, although I can’t help thinking it could be made pacier with a few cuts and faster direction.

After that, it was back to Shaftesbury Avenue for a somewhat starrier event: the transfer of a recent Broadway revival of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, complete with Kathleen Turner and the rest of the original cast. I saw Turner during the stage adaptation of The Graduate, where she was impressive, but this is a much meatier part (and a better play overall). Hardly the most cheering of theatre, but immaculately done. It’s also the first play I’ve seen in decades which was staged in three acts, with two separate intervals, much to the shock of large swathes of the audience, I suspect.

The biggest contrast between the two productions was, of course, the ticket price. In Bromley, 22 pounds got me a front row seat. In the West End, it got me a seat three rows from the back of the theatre in the balcony, meaning that the characters actually became headless whenever they went upstage.

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