A few years ago we saw a James Cordon vehicle at the National – One Man, Two Guv’nors – which was a modern take on a Commedia dell’arte masterpiece by Goldoni. I say masterpiece with a little hesitation as the very structured nature of such comedies can make them clunky to modern audiences: viz me. And the breaking – actually the complete demolition – of the fourth wall can have a destabilising affect on the flow which was the case with Cordon.
All that said there were many laugh out loud moments, too and I have to admit to enjoying it overall.
Last night the same author – adaptor – Richard Bean took Sheridan’s the Rivals and rebooted it from the Regency period to the Battle of Britain in 1940 in
Jack Absolute Flies Again
Bean used some of the original dialogue though he put the words into the mouth of a female lead which felt… naff. That meant the play had an uneven and clunky start.
That said one of Sheridan’s enduring creations is Mrs Malaprop, giving her name to malapropisms. She is comedy gold and she didn’t disappoint. Equally Sir Anthony Absolute, something of an ennobled tartar in the original is an excellent curmudgeonly Field Marshall here. His scenes with Mrs Malaprop were highlights.
‘Last time I saw you was at your husband’s funeral.’
‘Yes, I think everyone remembers your touching urology.’
It tries to make a virtue of undermining the conventions of the original too and largely succeeds. Then the maid was merely a stooge, a carrier of billet doux between the main protagonists. Here, the maid acts as a kind of narrator, as well as playing a major role.
There’s a terrific scene when the cast indulge in a jitterbug, there’s an unexpectedly surprising ending for a comedy.
And there’s Mrs Malaprop besmattering the stage with her hilarious, if a touch scatalogical mistakes.
‘He will go down in the anals of history…’
Should you go?
If you snigger at smut, yes. If you like your theatre compelling and thought provoking, wait for David Hare to eviscerate another part of the establishment.