The Rivals

 stylish, smart, farce-like fun & very cheering.”
Donald Hutera
(freelance writer for The Times, etc)

Plays International Magazine

Creative Cow are a Devon-based group founded five years ago with the intention of mounting tours of classic plays to conventional theatres and unusual “found-space” venues.  The company has strong links with the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford and visited the town with a production of The Rivals.

I first encountered Creative Cow at a village hall when their production of Pinter’s 1962 piece The Lover brimmed over with insights and confirmed that it is the sexiest play in the English language. The Rivals takes director Amanda Knott back to 1775 though her cast occupies an odd hinterland in which they wear distended skirts and porcelain-tinted complexions but read about themselves in red-top tabloids.

Knott has the enviable gift of bringing staple texts to vivid life through naturalistic diction but without taking linguistic liberties.  She and her cast have mined the text for revealing gesture but avoid anything that might prove embellished or mannered.

The production owes much to the excellence of the hardworking Katherine Senior as Mrs Malaprop. At no time does she rely solely on the stylised verbal blunders and her rounded treatment of the role broadens it from one who is existing solely through the love affairs of her niece to a more credible figure.

Senior is well supported by Jonathan Parish who is able to move his character Jack  from chocolate box soldier to an engaging lover and son at will. Parish’s nuanced treatment of the scene in which he pledges mock submission to his father is a piece of sustained self-parody which will remain with me for a long time.

A sparse, serviceable touring set, rapid costume changes as the performers double or treble up and a light touch with the comedy surrounding the duel all propel the narrative at ideal speed. There are delicious moments of unexpected irony as characters who are being played by the same actor are described as looking similar. My only cavil is that it was disappointing to hear Harvey Robinson’s accent as Sir Lucius wander around most of the 32 Irish counties. No doubt it settled later in the tour.

This is a focused, subtle, resourceful and coherent production that shows intelligence and integrity throughout. One of the pleasures of writing a regional column for many years is to see your hunches confirmed as innovative young companies like Creative Cow take on increasingly difficult projects and begin to flourish.

The Stage

Published Monday 24 September 2012 at 10:30 by Graham Gurrin

The set for this classic play is very simple - a couple of scaffold towers covered in white fairy lights, four plants, six chairs and a tiled floor. It’s a really fast-paced production, so the audience is carried along by the rhythm of the piece. Between scenes the chairs are carried aloft around the stage in short formal dances.

Jack Hulland (Sir Anthony Absolute, Bob Acres) flying into a rage as Sir Anthony draws the first spontaneous applause of the evening. Jonathan Parish (Captain Jack Absolute, David, Thomas) does a very good romantic lead, and Harvey Robinson (Fag, Faulkland, Sir Lucius O’Trigger) is excellent, particularly when feeling sorry for himself as Faulkland.

Kate Sharp (Lucy, Julia) copes brilliantly with the accent changes between her two characters and Lucy Theobald does well to engage the audience’s interest in the spoilt brat that is Lydia.

Katherine Senior is exquisite as Mrs Malaprop - it’s worth seeing the production for her performance alone. She continually encourages the audience into her conspiracy with lots of little sideways glances and smiles.

What is astonishing is the relevance of the dialogue to today’s audience. Lines such as, “Thought does not become a young woman” make the hairs on the back of the neck tingle - especially the way this company delivers them. What is a quite complex drama for modern audiences - relying on artifice and confusion rather than action and character, not to mention a totally different world view - is delivered with a light and speedy touch, and with a little fencing thrown in for good measure. Great fun.


uk theatre network

The Rivals at the Rosemary Branch Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin UK Theatre Network

 Creative Cow in association with the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford presents Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s hilarious comedy of manners. A circle of socialites are whiling away their time in the fashionable city of Bath. Capt. Jack Absolute pretends to be the penniless Ensign Beverley to please the romantic fantasies of his beloved Lydia Languish who prefers elopement even though it means losing two thirds of her fortune. Lydia’s aunt, Mrs Malaprop, has intercepted a note from Beverley and Lydia is now confined to her rooms, unable to patch up her argument with Beverley. Her cousin Julia is eager to console her but soon needs consolation herself as her suitor, Faulkland, starts another quarrel with her because she forgave him too quickly for some other petty argument. Together, Lydia and Julia wallow in their misery and enjoy every minute of it. Meanwhile Mrs Malaprop is swooning over the flamboyant Sir Lucius O’Trigger. To improve her chances with the hot-blooded Irish baronet she calls herself “Delia” and pretends to look like Lydia. The maid Lucy is paid handsomely for her services in this deception. Sir Anthony makes a surprise visit to Bath insisting that his son Jack marry Lydia. Mrs Malaprop is delighted, Jack is not – until he learns the identity of his future bride. New complications arise as Lydia’s other suitors get ready to fight their rival in a duel.

Amanda Knott directs an outstanding ensemble in a flawless production. Most actors play at least two different characters – sometimes changing from one character into the other almost immediately. Their comic timing is perfect. Katherine Senior is priceless as she twists phrases and twirls words as the delightful Mrs Malaprop: “You are the pineapple of politeness.” Jack Holland is hilarious as the autocratic Sir Anthony who demands absolute obedience from his son: “The lady shall be as ugly as I choose.” He is endearingly eccentric as the country bumpkin Mr Akers. Harvey Robinson is brilliant as Faulkland -  tormented by self-doubts and insecurity. The scene in which he drowns in self-pity because Julia is enjoying herself instead of missing him every second of the day is most enjoyable. Robinson is equally good as the dashing Sir Lucius O’Trigger as he pushes the frightened Akers into a duel and as Jack’s cunning servant Fag. Kate Sharp is charming and sly as the maid Lucy and lovely as Lydia’s loyal friend Julia. Lucy Theobald convinces as the airhead Lydia and Jonathan Parish is a handsome romantic lead as Capt. Jack Absolute. The scene changes are choreographed as a ballet of chairs and the music is quite wonderful.


Please go and see this delightful comedy!

Whats on Stage

Date Reviewed: 20 September 2012
WOS Rating: 

In the latest co-production by Creative Cow and the Yvonne Around Theatre,Sheridan’s comedy of manners The Rivals is not only tackled, but wrestled to the floor in a flurry of ruffled wigs, corsets and impeccable comic timing. With its plot offering more twists and turns than a Thorpe Park roller-coaster, cast and crew manage to revive this comedy and make it accessible for modern audiences without detracting from its original glory.

Director Amanda Knott has clearly done her research as none of the actors slipped into pantomime replicas of fops and rakes, instead the subtle hand gestures and flourishes of tail coats feel as natural as a modern girl using hair-straighteners or a mobile phone. The cast manage to place the audience completely at ease by inhabiting their 18th century movements rather than demonstrating them.

Despite the (for 21st century ears) wordy dialogue, the pace never slackens and the cast nimbly dance with the verbal flourishes. Harvey Robinson is a bona-fide chameleon playing the roles of the manservant Fag, foppish Faulkand and the slippery Sir Lucius O Trigger with natural flair, whileJonathan Parish fills the role of Captain Absolute with charm and masculinity. Indeed the sword fights between these two actors are so convincing and filled with energy it’s a wonder a Health and Safety official hasn’t shut them down!

As Mrs Malaprop Katherine Senior has the audience tittering with glee and Jack Hulland gives a downright hilarious performance as Sir Anthony Absolute. Kate Sharp and Lucy Theobald manage to add sparks of life into otherwise secondary characters and provide excellent foils for their male counterparts without ever seeming too “modern”.

Alla Sellick’s stripped back but historically accurate costumes are tongue in cheek and cleverly allude to the play’s themes of pretence and feminine facade. The only thing that stops this production from being near-perfect is the inconsistencies in costume changes for the women. The actors are able to define the separate characters extraordinarily well and so makes the over-blouses seem like a last minute addition.

The Rivals is a tricky play to get right but Creative Cow shows us just how funny Sheridan can be and leaves the audience wanting to doff a hanky and exclaim “Zounds!” at just how entertaining this production is.

- by Roz Carter

London 24

Tom Goulding

Friday, October 5, 2012

2:23 PM

Laughs come thick and fast as Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s subtle play is given sublime makeover

Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s notoriously difficult ‘comedy of manners’ receives a simple but sublime makeover in this stripped-down production from Creative Cow.

Founded in a cowshed under the watchful eye of a White Park herd, it is hardly surprising that this adaptable company thrives in intimate surroundings.

Fortunately, the Rosemary Branch Theatre provides the perfect venue for a performance that relies heavily on conspiratorial winks and gestures to the audience.

The minimalist setting, six chairs, two fairy-lit scaffolds and a chequered floor, may be at odds with this lavish period piece set in the fashionable city of Bath, but it ensures our attention never strays from the mesmerising cast.

There are some strong performances here, from Jonathan Parish’s bumbling David to Katherine Senior’s pretentious ‘she-dragon’ Mrs Malaprop.

However, it is Jack Hulland’s standout act as Sir Anthony Absolute who steals the show; a preposterous 18th Century caricature who spits, sweats and swears before stomping up the isle in a seat-shaking furore.

At times there is a danger that such tongue-twisting dialogue might escape those unaccustomed with Sheridan’s work.

Yet even to an untrained ear, such precise comic-timing and wit, combined with the timeless motif of upper-class hypocrisy ensure that the laughs come thick and fast.

For a play of such subtlety, it is also refreshing to see director Amanda Knott has not forsaken the action; highlighted in the genuinely impressive, and impossibly confined fencing scenes between Robinson and Parish.

In the fast-paced, cynical world of the 21st Century, many believe that the bawdy, cavalier comedies of the past have had their day. Zounds! It is a testament to Creative Cow that in a single evening, such aspersions can be turned on their head.

Remote Goat

The Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 did more than allow Charles II to succeed to the English throne. It also reinstated several avenues of pleasures which had been closed off during the 19 years of Oliver Cromwell's Puritan protectorship. Christmas was reinstated, and theatres reopened (with, zoons, women allowed on stage for the first time!) to mention but two...leading not to rise in popularity of the pantomime, but of the bawdy Restoration comedy. Given that dramatists therefore had a captive audience starved not only of drama but humour, it is little surprise that the format became a recognisable and hugely popular the hands of such authors such as William Wycherley, William Congreve, John Vanbrugh, and George Farquhar, to name but a few. Therefore when a '2nd wave' of this type of drama developed in the hands of later writers like Goldsmith and Sheridan, they could give full vent to the comedic situations safe in the knowledge that their audience would be completely au fait with the format and the stock characters whose very names often betray their foibles.

Accordingly, the action of The Rivals takes place on a single day and centres on a group of socialites and their hangers-on visiting the city of Barth (but it could easily have been Baxton) to take the waters, find romance, and engage in tittle-tattle! The rivals of the title are suitors for the hand of Lydia Languish (Lucy Theobald) a well-bred young lady, whose wealth affords her the romantic notion of forfeiting her dowry in pursuit of a match with a penniless sweetheart. Accordingly she plans to elope with poverty stricken soldier Ensign Beverley (Jonathan Parish) but unbeknown to her this is merely a persona adopted by Captain Jack Absolute to hide his well-healed origins. Meanwhile Jack's father, the tetchy Sir Anthony Absolute (Jack Hulland) is hatching a plot to marry his son off, and accordingly approaches Mrs Malaprop (Katherine Senior) to arrange a match between his son and her ward, who turns out to be... the very same Lydia. So far so good, except we're forgetting that Lydia will only marry a pauper, and did I forget to tell you that Sir Anthony forgets to tell Captain Jack who the lady in question is? Naturally he dismisses this match making offhand - appalled that his beloved now appears slipping from his grasp on 2 counts, until he discovers that the lady in question turns out to be... the very same Lydia! But, how now to hang onto his wealth whilst feigning poverty and how to back pedal into his father's good books without any loss of face?!

The necessity to explain this background and set the scene, whilst introducing these and other characters makes for a slow beginning to this play, but once these main details have been established, confusion, madness and mayhem ensue, with a secondary (and faltering) romance between Lydia's cousin Julia (Kate Sharp) and Captain Jack's friend the smarting Faulkland (Harvey Robinson) thrown in for good measure. 

One of the finest 'set pieces' of the first half is the eruption that is the parental lecture of Sir Anthony when his son Captain Jack first declines his proposal - a feat almost matched when Captain Jack decides to 'play' his father by pretending he has changed his mind solely out of duty to him. We were, of course, treated to the haughty Mrs Malaprop's vacuous phrases, together with sparkling dialogue and knowing asides, not least from conniving servants Fag (Harvey Robinson) and Lucy (Kate Sharp).

The small size of the company necessitated the actors taking several roles, but this was a positive bonus as it merely added to the confusion and hilarity of the proceedings. Changes of scenes were effectively accomplished by a simple chair moving scheme, to the accompaniment of suitable music. And without giving too much away I will simply say there was an effective use of costume to establish both character and station, which also allowed for quick changes: a delightful range of wigs (created by Kate Sharp) and top coats for the men, hooped skirts (but not for the servants!) for the ladies (costumes by Alla Sellick). 

Of course no comedy of manners, where aspersions are cast on a character's moral fibre, would be complete without engineering at least one duel. Bob Acres (Jack Hulland) proved a reluctant participant (making clear the origin of the phrase 'long shot') even when cajoled to defend his honour by the roguish fortune hunter Sir Lucius O' Trigger (Harvey Robinson). Sir Lucius is himself in for something of a shock when the true author of his epistolary romance is revealed. 

The performance directed by Amanda Knott and lit by Darrell Bracegirdle and was complemented by a delightful printed programme, the final pages of which included quotations from modern masters of Malapropism, such as the truly eggcellent John Prescott - although he congested it of course!

Derbyshire Times

First – rate revival

MRS Malaprop in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s classic play The Rivals is one of English theatre’s enduring comic creations; it’s good to see this witty spoof on love, deception and social pretension getting a revival.

MRS Malaprop in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s classic play The Rivals is one of English theatre’s enduring comic creations; it’s good to see this witty spoof on love, deception and social pretension getting a revival.

And an excellent revival it was, at the Pomegranate last Saturday in the capable and inventive hands of Creative Cow.

In the best tradition of small theatre companies, they achieved a lot with a little, without compromising on quality. The staging was little more than fairy-lit scaffolding and elegant chairs: simple but effective.

The women’s costumes were 18th century underwear. The men changed jackets, wigs and accents to denote different characters – of which a cast of six portrayed 12, with skill, wit and good acting.

Perhaps most important of all in a play whose language style isn’t altogether familiar to modern audiences, every line came across crisp and clean and the broad humour was loud and clear. The verbal mangling which made Mrs Malaprop (played by Creative Cow founding member Katherine Senior) a household name raised a laugh every time.

It was a pity this fun production visited Chesterfield for just one night. However, you can catch it at Buxton Opera House on Wednesday, October 3.