Review:The Rivals by Richard Brinsley Sheridan at Colchester Mercury until March 11.

The Rivals by Richard Brinsley Sheridan at Colchester Mercury until March 11.

It would be nice to think that Sheridan is sitting in some celestial theatrical club with a broad smile, lifting the glass or two of porter with friends and saying, ‘Did you see what they’ve done with my play?’

It’s nothing like the way he staged it back in 1774 but we know from the fun and games he placed in the piece that he will have found delight in Gari Jones’s bold, colourful production.

There’s song and dance, cabaret and slapstick, pop and punk, moments of music hall and the grotesque, the carnival atmosphere of a circus, and music to match them all, even the odd minuet.

The director sews all these elements into the happy madness of Sheridan’s work, some as extras, some slipped seamlessly into the plot and it works wonderfully because it never interrupts the flow of the story which rattles along like a coach and four racing the Bath mail.

Although some of the characters are dressed like pop group hopefuls on the X Factor, cleverly we are never allowed to forget that this is the 18th century where manners matter and duels may be fought over slights of love and honour. However, serious moments are few and the laughs flow like delicious wine from the dialogue and the crazy antics.

We merrily suspend our disbelief in these unlikely people and enter into the folly and absurdity of each situation as various men bid for the affections of the lovely Lydia Lanquish and the juicy Julia Melville.

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How can Lydia, in tight white top and tutu, not guess that her lover Ensign Beverley, a poor officer she plans to elope with, and Captain Jack, heir to wealthy Sir Anthony Absolute, are really one and the same?

And we can’t understand why Julia has not long since given the compulsively jealous Faulkland the old heave ho. But Katherine Manners, Will Norris, Nadia Morgan and David Tarkenter are splendidly inventive in the roles.

We get a lot fun from Ignatius Anthony’s explosive Sir Anthony constantly warning people not to get him in a frenzy, from the camp Bob Acres of Graeme Brookes, Marshall Griffin’s aggressive Irishman Sir Lucius O’Trigger and the craft of Roger Delves-Broughton as Fag.

Christine Absalom, with a big wig and panto dame dress, is a coyly, hilariously hopeful Mrs Malaprop who restructures the English language with expressions like ‘he’s the very pineapple of politeness,’ and suggests that girls might be taught a bit of geometry to ‘better understand the contagious countries.’

Nicholas Barton-Wines, Clare Humphrey, Thomas Richardson and Bethany Sharpe all have important roles in a great evening that teeters beautifully on the edge of bawdy and sometimes falls in.

David Henshall.