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 Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond

Watermill Theatre

Box office

01635 46044.

The Watermill Theatre, Bagnor, Newbury, RG20 8AE. A map is here. A seating plan is here.


Reviews of The Rivals

15th March to 21st April 2018

Review from Newbury Theatre.

When Sheridan wrote The Rivals in 1774, he wrapped it in a Prologue and Epilogue, written in rhyming couplets. Beth Flintoff, who adapted this version of the play, updated the Prologue and Epilogue with witty references to today’s world. As for the play itself, she has cut it down to just over two hours and amended the text to make it more understandable to modern audiences while keeping the spirit of the 18th century language.

We end up with eight main characters, but you’ll have to pay attention to understand who’s who.

Sir Anthony Absolute is father to Captain Jack Absolute (who is also masquerading as Ensign Beverley) and guardian of Julia, who is the cousin of Lydia Languish whose aunt and guardian is Mrs Malaprop. Lydia (a rich heiress) is in love with Beverley, believing him to be poor. Julia is in love with Mr Faulkland but their relationship is beset with doubts on both sides. Country gentleman Bob Acres is in love with Lydia, who finds him odious. Sir Lucius O’Trigger has a sort of social-media-type offline relationship with the non-existent Delia, thinking she is Lydia but she is actually Mrs Malaprop. And that’s just the start of Act 1. It gets more complicated.

The Rivals is a comedy of manners, but there are certainly elements of farce in it. As such, the pace of the action and dialogue needs to be fast, and apart from a few fluffs of words, it was.

Michael Thomas (last seen on the Watermill stage in Lettice and Lovage in 2012) is Sir Anthony: belligerent, temperamental and with the right degree of bluster. Ncuti Gatwa is Captain Jack and you can see why Lydia (Emma Denly) fell for him: he’s handsome, charming and with a ready smile, and as Lydia’s feelings change we can see it oh so clearly in her face.

Julia St John relishes the part of Mrs Malaprop – she sails blithely on, indifferent to her mistakes. It’s hard to keep up with them all, but I bet calamari wasn’t on the menu in 1774.

Charlotte Bate as Julia (also Prologue, Epilogue and Lucy) and James Mack as Faulkland are the infuriating will-they-won’t-they couple; you want to give them a good slap and tell them to get on with it.

Daniel Abelson and Christopher Logan have nice character parts as Bob Acres – pusillanimous in the dual duel (you need to see it) – and Sir Lucius.

Designer James Cotterill gives us a bare stage with just two chairs and some curtains. OK, not just ‘some curtains’: multiple floor to ceiling opulent satin-like curtains in shades of pink and purple, changing with each scene and, well, wow. Plus some sumptuous costumes and some surprising wigs.

How to sum up director Jonathan Humphreys’ production? The asides to get an audience reaction didn’t work the night I was there (they need a more lively audience) but Beth Flintoff’s clever adaptation gives the play a new lease of life supported by a strong group of actors.


Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Catch them if you can

Beth Flintoff's laugh-out-loud adaptation of Sheridan's comedy of manners

The Rivals, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until April 21

This tangled story of romance was Richard Brinsley Sheridan's first successful play, performed in 1775 and written because he was desperately in need of funds. Many adaptations were to follow, including a musical version in the 1930s and the latest by Beth Flintoff is a frothy, laugh-aloud showcase for the talents of the playwright and this excellent cast.

Sir Anthony Absolute (Michael Thomas) has come to Bath to arrange the marriage of his son, Captain Jack (Ncuti Gatwa), to Lydia (Emma Denly) who is addicted to romantic fiction and intends to marry for love rather than money. She falls for Beverley, a penniless soldier – or so she thinks – in reality the 'poor soldier' is wealthy Captain Jack in disguise. Gatwa's wonderfully expressive face as he worries about the difficulties arising from this situation, including the prospect of having to fight a duel with himself, is sheer delight.

Meanwhile, cousin Julia (Charlotte Bate) is in an on-off relationship with Faulkland (James Mack) who adores her, but continually puts imaginary obstacles in the way of their love to such an extent that she eventually will have nothing more to do with him.

Then there is the wonderful Mrs Malaprop, Lydia's autocratic and linguistically-challenged aunt (Julia St John) who speaks of her niece as being "as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile" and instructs her to "illiterate him [Beverley] from your memory". So many malapropisms superbly delivered and all hilarious – if you were quick enough to catch them.

Mrs Malaprop believes that Irish Sir Lucius (Christopher Logan) loves her and she has sent him notes signed 'Delia' However, he thinks they are from the beautiful Lydia and arrives to claim her. The tangled knot increases, added to by country bumpkin Bob (Daniel Abelson), another of Lydia's suitors whose efforts at romance are doomed to failure.

The backdrop to this complicated web sees the stage framed by magnificently-draped curtains which change in number depending upon in which withdrawing room the action is taking place.

The introductory verse, spoken by a smiling Charlotte Bate is not only welcoming, but has the effect of including the audience as part of the whole and we were instructed to forget everything – even that other tangled political situation beginning with B – and simply enjoy the evening. And we did. Very much.

Not to be missed.


There are reviews from The Stage ("an enjoyably light and modern affair... charismatic central performances enhance an enjoyable and contemporary production of Sheridan’s comedy" - ★★★★), the Henley Standard ("the Watermill’s adaptation wrings every ounce of delight out of the original text — with an absolutely stellar cast... it would be impossible to write a review of the whole cast’s performances without peppering it with superlatives"), Daily Info ("the lovers that head up the cast are exceedingly good... an enjoyable theatrical treat at the Watermill... where the play stands out is in a trio of very good performances which makes this a fun evening for all"), PocketSize Theatre ("the enthusiastic cast make it an enjoyable evening for a classic play that defined comical mistaken word use" - ★★★), TheSpyInTheStalls ("Watermill Theatre has a sparkling hit on its hands... a feast of high-blown cod grandiloquence is delivered with crisp authority by a talented cast" - ★★★★★).

There's an interesting article...

... by Tei Williams about the process in staging a Watermill production, from choosing the play through to the opening night. It's here.

Reviews in the Archive

Teddy (January 2018)
The Borrowers (November 2017)
Under Milk Wood (October 2017)
Loot (September 2017)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (September 2017 and on tour)
A Little Night Music (July 2017)
All at Sea! (July 2017)
The Miller's Child (July 2017)
Nesting (July 2017 and on tour)
House and Garden (May 2017)
Twelfth Night (April 2017)
Faust x2 (March 2017)
Murder For Two (January 2017)
Sleeping Beauty (November 2016)
Frankenstein (October 2016)
The Wipers Times (September 2016)
Crazy For You (July 2016)
Watership Down (June 2016)
Untold Stories (May 2016)
One Million Tiny Plays About Britain (April 2016 and on tour)
Romeo and Juliet (February 2016)
Tell Me on a Sunday (January 2016)
Alice in Wonderland (November 2015)
Gormenghast (November 2015) - see the Youth page
The Ladykillers (September 2015)
Oliver! (July 2015)
A Little History of the World (July 2015 and on tour)
Between the Lines (July 2015)
The Deep Blue Sea (June 2015)
Far From the Madding Crowd (April 2015)
Tuxedo Junction (March 2015)
The Secret Adversary (February 2015)
Peter Pan (November 2014)
But First This (October 2014)
Twelfth Night (November 2014) - see the Youth page
Journey's End (September 2014)
Calamity Jane (July 2014)
The Boxford Masques - Joe Soap's Masquerade (July 2014)
Hardboiled - the Fall of Sam Shadow (July 2014)
A Bunch of Amateurs (May 2014)
Sense and Sensibility (April 2014)
Life Lessons (March 2014)
All My Sons (February 2014)
The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (January 2014)
Pinocchio (November 2013)
Sherlock's Last Case (September 2013)
Romeo+Juliet (September 2013 and on tour)
The Witches of Eastwick (July 2013)
Laurel & Hardy (June 2013)
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (May 2013)
The Miser (April 2013)
David Copperfield (March 2013)
Sleuth (February 2013)
Arabian Nights (November 2012)
The Tempest (September 2012)
Thoroughly Modern Millie (August 2012)
Boxford Masques (July 2012)
Ben Hur (June 2012)
Of Mice and Men (May 2012)
Love on the Tracks (April 2012 and on tour)
Henry V and The Winter's Tale (April 2012)
Lettice and Lovage (February 2012)
The Wind in the Willows (November 2011)
Some Like It Hotter (November 2011 and on tour)
Great Expectations (September 2011)
Radio Times (August 2011)
The Marriage of Figaro (July 2011)
Moonlight and Magnolias (May 2011)
Richard III and The Comedy of Errors (April 2011)
The Clodly Light Opera and Drama Society (March 2011)
Relatively Speaking (February 2011)
Treasure Island (November 2010)
Single Spies (September 2010)
Copacabana (July 2010)
Daisy Pulls It Off (June 2010)
Brontë (April 2010)
Raising Voices (March 2010)
Confused Love (March 2010)
Heroes (February 2010)
James and the Giant Peach (November 2009)
Educating Rita (October 2009)
Spend Spend Spend! (July 2009 and September 2010)
Blithe Spirit (May 2009)
Bubbles (April to May and September to October 2009)
A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Merchant of Venice (March 2009)
Life X 3 (January 2009)
Matilda and Duffy's Stupendous Space Adventure (November 2008)
The Sirens' Call (November 2008)
Our Country's Good (September 2008)
See Newbury Dramatic Society for a review of The Recruiting Officer (October 2008)
Sunset Boulevard (July 2008)
Boxford Masques - Knight and Day (July 2008)
Black Comedy and The Bowmans (May 2008)
London Assurance (April 2008)
Micky Salberg's Crystal Ballroom Dance Band (April 2008 and on tour)
Great West Road (March 2008)
Merrily We Roll Along (March 2008)
Honk! (November 2007)
Rope (September 2007)
Martin Guerre (July 2007)
Twelfth Night (June 2007)
The Story of a Great Lady (April and September 2007, and on tour)
The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (April 2007)
For Services Rendered (March 2007)
Plunder (January 2007)
The Snow Queen (November 2006)
Peter Pan in Scarlet (October 2006)
The Taming of the Shrew (September 2006 and on tour in 2007)
Hot Mikado (July 2006 and September 2009)
Boxford Masques: The Crowning of the Year (July 2006)
Hobson's Choice (May 2006)
Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (April 2006)
Tartuffe (February 2006)
The Jungle Book (November 2005)
The Gilded Lilies (October 2005)
Copenhagen (September 2005)
The Garden of Llangoed (September 2005 and September 2006)
Thieves' Carnival (July 2005)
The Shed (July 2005)
Mack and Mabel (May 2005)
The Odyssey (May 2005)
Broken Glass (April 2005)
The Winter's Tale (January 2005)
Arabian Nights (December 2004)
See Newbury Dramatic Society for a review of Whose Life is it Anyway? (November 2004)
Multiplex (November 2004)
Neville's Island (September 2004)
The Comedian (September 2004 and March 2005)
Raising Voices Again (September 2004)
Pinafore Swing (July 2004)
The Venetian Twins (May 2004)
The Gentleman from Olmedo (April 2004)
Mr & Mrs Schultz (March 2004 and on tour)
Sweeney Todd (February 2004)
The Emperor and the Nightingale (November 2003)
See Newbury Dramatic Society for a review of An Ideal Husband (November 2003)
A Star Danced (September 2003)
The Fourth Fold (September 2003)
The Last Days of the Empire (July 2003)
Accelerate (July 2003)
Dreams from a Summer House (May 2003)
The Triumph of Love (April 2003)
Gigolo (March 2003)
Raising Voices (March 2003)
A Midsummer Night's Dream (February 2003)
The Firebird (November 2002)
Ten Cents a Dance (September 2002)
Dancing at Lughnasa (July 2002)
Love in a Maze (June 2002)
Fiddler on the Roof (April 2002)
I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls (March 2002 and March 2006)
Only a Matter of Time (February 2002)
Cinderella and the Enchanted Slipper (November 2001)
Piaf (October 2001)
The Merchant of Venice (October 2001)
Witch (September 2001)
The Clandestine Marriage (August 2001)
The Importance of Being Earnest (May 2001)
Gondoliers (March 2001)
Rose Rage (February 2001)
Carmen (July 2000)