Unrivalled Rivals

Treat of the week: went yesterday to the lovely Watermill Theatre near Newbury to see a revival of The Rivals by Richard Brinsley Sheridan - written when he was 23 in 1775 and, in 2018, still one of the funniest farces in the language.  The production runs until 15 April and if it's not sold out, get to see it if you can: it's life-enhancing.  Beth Flintoff has adapted it very effectively (boldly giving Mrs Malaprop a few additional verbal infelicities), Jonathan Humphreys directs, and the cast is a joy.  I've seen a few Sir Anthony Absolutes - among them Sir Ralph Richardson, Sir Donald Sinden, Peter Bowles and Nicholas le Prevost - but Michael Thomas is now my favourite: so hilarious and so human.  

Sheridan gave up play-writing aged only 29 and went into politics, but he maintained his interest in the theatre - and in the 1790s was responsible for rebuilding the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.  Famously, on 24 February 1809, the theatre was destroyed by fire.  To a friend who marvelled at the calm way he sat in the Piazza Coffee House as his beloved theatre burned to the ground, Sheridan replied: 'A man may surely be allowed to take a glass of wine at his own fireside.'


Gyles Brandreth