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OTG's summer production in 2007 was Sheridan's The Rivals, directed by Polly Mountain and performed in Trinity College Gardens. Reviews of the show appeared in the Oxford Times and Daily Information. Additonally, long time Guild stalwart Gerard Gould offered us his thoughts on the show.
picture from the performance picture from the performance
Three people, two in dresses one in tights have a chat A very interesting representation of a teapot
picture from the performance picture from the performance
I'll bet we can look more gormless than the people in the picture next door Oh no you can't we've got it cracked

OXFORD TIMES - Simon Tavener

THIS IS THE FIRST TIME IN OVER 50 YEARS that Oxford Theatre Guild has not presented a Shakespeare play for their summer season. There is no denying that The Rivals is a classic of the English stage but it, perhaps, does not have quite the same immediate appeal as the popular plays of the Bard.
Trinity College gardens provide a handsome setting for this production and the cast did well to cope with both the inclement weather and the noisy interruptions from the outside world. It has not been a kind summer for outdoor productions - I do hope things improve soon for them.

Drama of the Georgian period requires a certain lightness of touch to bring it fully to life for a modern audience. From our modern perspective, the complex social rules that were being satirized by Sheridan seem somewhat alien. Some of the actors are clearly more at home in the genre than others: Colin Burnie gives a delightfully nuanced performance as Sir Anthony - capturing the essence of the man. Bill Moulford and Alex Rogers both bring their characters fully to life with lively and well-rounded portrayals. Of the below stairs characters, Rowena Lennon as Lucy (the maid) stands out - she is sparky and consistently entertaining.

When bringing period pieces such as The Rivals to the stage, it is important that the details are right. This applies in all areas - movement, gesture, costume, plot, make-up and many more. The costumes, supplied by the RSC, are certainly attractive and the many wigs complete the sumptuous look. Unfortunately some of the props and gestures are clearly too modern to allow us to fully escape into the 18th Century - a minor point - but one that does jar.

I commend the Guild for their courage in breaking out from their traditional choice of playwright. The Rivals is an entertaining play and one that has the potential to do well as a garden show. I sincerely hope that the weather improves for them and that audiences enjoy this quintessentially English play.

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DAILY INFORMATION - Paula Clifford

A SMALL GROUP OF STALWARTS in a corner of Trinity College gardens braved rain, cold and some equally committed midges to support the Oxford Theatre Guild on the opening night of Sheridan's The Rivals on Tuesday. And, despite the conditions, it was a great show, with accomplished and witty performances by the lead characters, and Alistair Nunn outstanding as the hero Jack Absolute.
This is, of course, the play that introduced the world to malapropisms, and Barbara Denton is stunning in the role of the linguistically challenged Mrs Malaprop, besides sporting a coiffure that Marge Simpson would be proud of. Indeed, hair features quite prominently in this production. Right at the beginning the conversation between Sir Anthony's coachman and Jack's manservant reflects on the horrors of gentlemen wearing their own hair, and the subsequent choice of wigs ranges from the elegant (Sir Anthony) to the perfectly outlandish (Bob Acres).

Set in 18th-century Bath, where there's not much to do apart from seeing and being seen ("not a fiddle or a card after 11pm," observes one of the servants sadly), The Rivals presents the fortunes of a couple of pairs of lovers whose progress to the altar is never in serious doubt. Holly Jones is delightful in the role of Jack's beloved, Lydia Languish, whose worldview is shaped by reading too many novels from the circulating library, and Grace Mountain is a comely Julia Melville, the much put-upon girlfriend of Faulkland (Alex Rogers), a tense and insecure character who comes complete with stress balls (outsize worry beads, in case you're wondering).

The male characters dominate the play - and very striking they are too. I particularly enjoyed Bill Moulford as Bob Acres and Tim Bearder as Thomas the coachman. Between them they have a repertoire of facial grimaces that is thoroughly entertaining and the odd touches of sheer blokishness do much to enliven a well-worn classic.

One innovation that must be welcomed is the Guild's decision, in response to popular request, to provide a detailed synopsis of the play for visitors whose first language is not English. The rain policy is simple: if the play is abandoned before the interval you get a full refund. On Tuesday, the intermittent drizzle turned to a downpour at the end of Act II, so we had an early interval!

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Gerard Gould

WITH TWO PRODUCTIONS OF A Midsummer Night's Dream competing with one another in Oxford at the same time (one a "highly physical production very much spoken in a modem idiom" and the other with "some poor text delivery") director Polly Mountain was wise in choosing Sheridan's 18th Century comedy of manners The Rivals for the summer production.

And what a splendid production it was! Sheridan's period dialogue was delivered with a verve, a degree of confidence, a meaningfulness which reflects long, patient rehearsals with a director who knew exactly what she was doing. No need to resort to such theatrically impoverishing devices as "physical theatre" or "political correctness." Much more important to inspire confidence and comedy timing.

Led by Alistair Nunn as Captain Absolute and Colin Burnie as his Father the Company gave a highly disciplined and utterly professional performance the like of which I haven't seen in a Guild production for a while. I have now seen Alistair Nunn in several plays, and in every one he was different - the sign of a good actor. Here he gave a masterful display of a jeune premier - much more difficult than playing character roles. With roving eyes, a mischievous sense of fun playing round his lips, a charm of manner and a flexible voice he entered into the spirit of the play.

Colin Burnie resisted the temptation of playing Sir Anthony Absolute as a bullying soldier; instead, his scenes with Alistair Nunn were played with subtlety and perfect comedy timing. Barbara Denton also resisted her natural exuberance trained in musical theatre and gave us a disciplined Mrs Malaprop who scored a bull's eye with every malapropism she uttered; no mean achievement this, and it was well rewarded by our spontaneous laughter. Alex Rogers also was convincing as the neurotic, vulnerable Faulkland. It's a good part to play, in complete contrast to Jack Absolute.
I also want to praise Holly Jones for such clear enunciation, thus achieving the right languishing pace for Lydia Languish. She needs to work on her voice to produce lower notes in her register. The training course at LAMDA should help her.

Bill Moulford's Bob Acres - the country boy with a splendid hay-strewn wig - managed to be both comical and vulnerable. Every member of this good company helped to make this an outstanding production, especially Ben Baxter always with a smile on his face.

The variety of wigs was another outstanding feature. Costumes were appropriate and unobtrusive. The setting was simple, perhaps too simple. Trinity College Garden is not the most striking among Oxford's colleges. Maybe, the gazebo could have been put to greater use. The two garden benches looked good, but by remaining set in upstage left and right places they were not really serviceable when some important scenes were played on them. More use could also have been made of music.
The great boon of this production lay in its verbal clarity and sheer joie de vivre. For these gifts I am truly thankful.

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