The Rivals

Comedy by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. It's 1775 and the fashionable world descends on Bath, to take the waters, to show off their finery, to enjoy the gossip and to pursue romance. Amongst them are some of the most extraordinary comic characters to grace the stage: the verbally misguided Mrs Malaprop, her absurdly romantic niece, Lydia Languish, the blinkered Sir Anthony Absolute, the blustering Irishman Sir Lucius O'Trigger and the bumpkin Bob Acres. Throughout the course of single day these suitors and schemers and their servants indulge in an assortment of hilariously extravagant intrigues before everyone is paired off to their own satisfaction.

First performed at the Covent Garden Theatre (now rebuilt as the Royal Opera House) on 18 January 1775, it was vilified by both the audience and critics causing Sheridan to close the production after just one performance so that he could rewrite it. The revised version opened at the Covent Garden Theatre the following week on 28 January 1775 to acclaim from the public and critics.

The comedy is notable for introducing the word malapropism - meaning the mistaken use of a word in place of a similar-sounding one, often with an amusing effect - named after the character Mrs Malaprop.

1945 West End London Revival with Morland Graham and Edith Evans

1948 West End London Revival with Ninian Brodie and Rosamond Burne

1956 West End London Revival with John Clements and Athene Seyler

1966 West End London Revival with Ralph Richardson and Margaret Rutherford/Isabel Jeans

1978 West End London Revival with Anthony Quayle and Margaret Courtenay

1971 London Revival with Michael Hordern and Geraldine McEwan

1994 West End London Revival with Richard Johnson and Patricia Routledge

2000 London Revival with Benjamin Whitrow and Wendy Craig

2010 West End London Revival with Peter Bowles and Penelope Keith

Playwright and orator Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816) wrote two comic masterpieces for the stage, The Rivals and The School for Scandal. Richard Brinsley Sheridan was born in Dublin. In 1770 the Sheridan family moved to Bath where Richard fell in love with a beautiful young singer, Elizabeth Linley with whom he eloped and later married. Sheridan based The Rivals on many of the events in his own life.

1945 West End London Revival with Morland Graham and Edith Evans

Opened 25 September 1945 (no previews), Closed 16 February 1946 at the Criterion Theatre

The cast featured Morland Graham as 'Sir Anthony Absolute', Anthony Quayle as 'Captain Jack Absolute', Peter Cushing as 'Mr Faulkland', Reginald Beckwith as 'Bob Acres', Edith Evans as 'Mrs Malaprop', Audrey Fildes as 'Miss Lydia Languish', Jean Wilson as 'Miss Julia Melville', Brefni O'Rorke as 'Sir Lucius O'Trigger', Barry Ford as 'Errand Boy', Charles Lamb as 'David', Charles Perry as 'Servant', Henry Ainley Jr as 'Bob Acres' Servant', Jean Parrington as 'Maid', Leonard Maguire as 'Thomas', Margaret Anderson as 'Mrs Malaprop's Maid', Michael Gough as 'Fag', and Pauline Jameson as 'Lucy'.

Directed by William Armstrong and Edith Evans, with designs by Oliver Messel, and music by Leslie Bridgewater adapted from William Boyce.

Prior to London's West End this production, with the same cast, embarked on a short two-week tour: Newcastle Theatre Royal from Monday 3 September to Saturday 8 August 1945; and Glasgow Kings Theatre from Monday 10 September to Saturday 15 September 1945.

This revival of The Rivals marked the first live theatre performances at the Criterion Theatre since the Herbert Farjeon and Walter Leigh revue In Town Again, which had opened at the Criterion Theatre from on Friday 6 September 1940, was forced to close on Friday 13 September 1940. The London Blitz, the bombing campaign against London, started on Saturday 7 September 1940, and virtually all theatres and places of entertainment closed that weekend. Although In Town Again at the Criterion Theatre, which sits mostly underground, managed to continue on for a few days more, the theatre management closed the revue following the performance on Friday 13 September 1940. The Criterion Theatre was then requisitioned for the rest of the Second World War as a BBC Radio Studio.

1948 West End London Revival with Ninian Brodie and Rosamond Burne

Opened 29 June 1948 (no previews), Closed 10 July 1948 at the St James's Theatre (now demolished)

The cast featured Ninian Brodie as 'Sir Anthony Absolute', Malcolm Farquhar as 'Captain Jack Absolute', Robin Bailey as 'Mr Faulkland', Alan MacNaughtan as 'Bob Acres', Rosamond Burne as 'Mrs Malaprop', Gwen Cherrell as 'Miss Lydia Languish', Dorothy Wheatley as 'Miss Julia Melville', John Phillips as 'Sir Lucius O'Trigger', John Paul as 'David', Patricia Russell as 'Lucy', Peter Franklin as 'Fag', William Moore as 'Coachman', Betty Crowe, Jean Lawrence, Michael de Leon, Paddy Croft, Peter Bentley, Robert Everton, Talbot Potter, and Tony Steedman.

Directed by Willard Stoker, with designs by Paul Shelving.

Presented by the Birmingham Repertory Company as the third part of an eight-week 'Festival of Repertory'.

The 'Festival of Repertory' was presented by the producer Basil Dean in association with the British Theatre Group and the Arts Council, with the aim of providing a West End showcase for regional repertory companies. At the time, these did not usually transfer to London as the actors where needed to continue to perform in repertory at the regional theatre.

The other three Repertory Companies in the season where Liverpool Playhouse with Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard (from 1 to 12 June 1948); Sheffield Playhouse with Alfred Sangster's The Brontes (from 15 to 26 June); and Bristol Old Vic with William Shakespeare's Hamlet (from 13 to 24 July).

To fill in the two-week gap left in the Repertory Theatre's schedule, British Theatre Group's production of Ted Willis' new play No Trees in the Street, starring Beatrix Lehmann, was toured to the theatres during the gap. Following the finish of the 'Festival of Repertory', No Trees in the Street was presented at the St James's Theatre where it opened on 27 July 1948 (with no previews), and closed on 7 August 1948. It was later be adapted as a film in 1959 starring Sylvia Syms.

The 1,200-seater St James's Theatre was located in King Street, St James, opposite Bury Street.

1956 West End London Revival with John Clements and Athene Seyler

Opened 23 February 1956 (no previews), Closed 28 July 1956 at the Saville Theatre (now Odeon Covent Garden Cinema)

The cast featured John Clements as 'Sir Anthony Absolute', Laurence Harvey as 'Captain Jack Absolute', Paul Daneman as 'Mr Faulkland', Michael Medwin as 'Bob Acres', Athene Seyler as 'Mrs Malaprop', Kay Hammond as 'Miss Lydia Languish', Peggy Simpson as 'Miss Julia Melville', William Mervyn as 'Sir Lucius O'Trigger', Brian Hayes as 'David', Michael Kent as 'Thomas', Peter Sallis as 'Fag', Petra Davies as 'Lucy', Antony Beaumont, Frederick Payne, Oliver Neville, and Stuart Hurchinson.

Directed by William Chappell, with designs by Peter Rice, and music by Leslie Bridgewater.

Unfortunately Kay Hammond withdrew from this production following the performance on Friday 2 March 1956 suffering from bronchitis. Initially her role of 'Miss Lydia Languish' was played by her understudy, Clare Bradley, but as Kay Hammond was ultimately unable to return to the production, Gwen Cherrell joined the cast to take over the role.

This production was originally scheduled to run up to 21 April 1956, but was extended by 14-weeks, up to 28 July 1956. This meant that, due to Laurence Harvey's prior filming commitments, from Monday 28 May 1956 Richard Johnson joined the cast to play the role of 'Captain Absolute' on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and Wednesday afternoon matinees, with Laurence Harvey playing the part on Wednesday and Friday evenings, and both performances on Saturday.

Prior to London's West End this production, with the same cast, embarked on a short two-week tour: Edinburgh Lyceum Theatre from Thursday 2 February to Saturday 11 February 1956; and Stratford-upon-Avon Shakespeare Memorial Theatre from Monday 13 February to Saturday 18 February 1956.

1966 West End London Revival with Ralph Richardson and Margaret Rutherford/Isabel Jeans

Previewed 5 October 1966, Opened 6 October 1966, Closed 19 August 1967 at the Haymarket Theatre

The cast featured Ralph Richardson as 'Sir Anthony Absolute', Daniel Massey as 'Captain Jack Absolute' (up to Saturday 11 February 1967), Robin Ellis as 'Captain Jack Absolute' (from Monday 13 February 1967), Moray Watson as 'Mr Faulkland', Keith Baxter as 'Bob Acres', Margaret Rutherford as 'Mrs Malaprop' (up to Saturday 17 June 1967), Isabel Jeans as 'Mrs Malaprop' (from Monday 19 June 1967, with 'Opening Night' on Monday 3 July 1967), Marilyn Taylerson as 'Miss Lydia Languish', Angela Thorne as 'Miss Julia Melville', Geoffrey Toone as 'Sir Lucius O'Trigger', Andrew Carr as 'Attendant'/'Tailor's Assistant', Anthony Walker as 'Musician', Carolyn Sachs as 'Maid', Celia Bannerman as 'Lucy', Daphne Newton as 'Housekeeper'/'Old Lady', David King as 'David', David Valla as 'Kitchen Boy'/'Tailor', James Hunter as 'Fag', John Helm as 'Page Boy', Stanley Lloyd as 'Hairdresser'/'Lamplighter', and Stringer Davis as 'Coachman'/'M du Peigne'.

Directed by Glen Byam Shaw, with sets by Motley, costumes by Anthony Powell, lighting by Joe Davis, and music by Leslie Rridgewater.

It was while performing in this comedy, that Margaret Rutherford was awarded a Damehood in the 1967 New Year's Honours, announced on 31 December 1966. Margaret Rutherford collected her DBE (Dame of the British Empire) from Queen Elizabeth II at an Investiture held at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday 7 February 1967.

On Saturday evening 22 April 1968 this revival played its 227th performance and became the longest running production of The Rivals, beating the 226 performances that the William Farren's 1882 revival played at the Vaudeville Theatre - opened on 9 December 1882 (no previews), closed on 14 July 1883, with an original cast that featured William Farren as 'Sir Anthony Absolute', Henry Neville as 'Captain Absolute', and Mrs Stirling (AKA Mary Anne Stirling AKA Fanny Clifton) as 'Mrs Malaprop'.

This is the longest continuous running production of The Rivals in London, with 363 performances, and 1 preview, for a total of 364 performances.

The 'Opening Night' for Isabel Jeans taking over the role of 'Mrs Malaprop' took place two weeks after she started due to her fellow cast member Keith Baxter being on holiday at the time.

Prior to opening in London's West End this production, with the same cast, was presented at the Brighton Theatre Royal for a two week season from Tuesday 20 September to Saturday 1 October 1966.

1978 West End London Revival with Anthony Quayle and Margaret Courtenay

Previewed 31 August 1978, Opened 8 September 1978, Closed 16 December 1978 (in repertory) at the Old Vic Theatre

The cast featured Anthony Quayle as 'Sir Anthony Absolute', Christopher Neame as 'Captain Jack Absolute', James Aubrey as 'Mr Faulkland', Matthew Guinness as 'Bob Acres', Margaret Courtenay as 'Mrs Malaprop', Isla Blair as 'Miss Lydia Languish', Mel Martin as 'Miss Julia Melville', Trevor Martin as 'Sir Lucius O'Trigger', Barry J Gordon as 'Coachman', Carol Gillies as 'Lucy', Colin Kaye as 'Errand Boy', Enn Reitel as 'David', Kenneth Gilbert as 'Fag', Colin Kaye, Jan Linden, Janette Foggo, Kevin Whateley, Lyndsey Durant, Paul Ridley, and Tom Fahy, with Jacqueline Clifton on Harpsichord.

Directed by Anthony Quayle and Ian Judge, with choreography by Ian Judge, designs by Alan Barrett, lighting by Keith Edmundson, and music by Donald Fraser.

Presented in repertory by the Prospect Theatre Company.

During the run of The Rivals the Prospect Theatre Company had two seperate acting companies, each performing two or three plays, and alternating most weeks between performing at London's Old Vic, and performing in various regional theatres. Anthony Quayle led the acting company that performed Shakespeare's King Lear and Sheridan's The Rivals, spening two weeks during October 1978 at the Sunderland Empire Theatre and the Nottingham Theatre Royal; two weeks in November at the Brighton Theatre Royal and the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre; and one week in December at the Birmingham Alexandra Theatre. The other acting company, led by Derek Jacobi, performed Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, Christopher Fry's The Lady's Not For Burning, and Chekhov's Ivanov.

This production was originally scheduled to be directed by Sir John Clements, but he withdrew two-weeks before the start of previews, replaced with Anthony Quayle and Ian Judge.

Beryl Reid was originally scheduled to play the role of 'Mrs Malaprop' in this revival - reprising a role she had played eight years earlier on television (BBC One TV, Sunday 17 May 1970, with Andrew Cruickshank as 'Sir Anthony Absolute' and Jeremy Brett as 'Captain Absolute'). Unfortunately during rehearsals she sustained a compound fracture of her left arm. Although she was able rejoin rehearsals with her arm strapped up, on her doctor's advice, she withdrew from the production, and Margaret Courtenay stepped in at very short notice to play 'Mrs Malaprop'

This production was scheduled to open on Monday 4 September 1978, but was delayed until Friday 8 September 1978 due to Margaret Courtenay stepping into the role of 'Mrs Malaprop' at short notice, see above.

1971 London Revival with Michael Hordern and Geraldine McEwan

Previewed 2 April 1983, Opened 12 April 1983, Closed 24 March 1984 (in repertory) at the National Theatre's Olivier Theatre

The ORIGINAL cast up to Thursday 5 January 1984 featured Michael Hordern as 'Sir Anthony Absolute', Patrick Ryecart as 'Captain Jack Absolute', Edward Petherbridge as 'Mr Faulkland', Tim Curry as 'Bob Acres', Geraldine McEwan as 'Mrs Malaprop', Anne Louise Lambert as 'Miss Lydia Languish', Fiona Shaw as 'Miss Julia Melville', Niall Buggy as 'Sir Lucius O' Trigger', Barry James as 'Fag', Brian Kent as 'Tailor', David Hitchen as 'Errand Boy', Douglas Fielding as 'Wig Master', Kate Gielgud as 'Julia's Maid', Marianne Morley as 'Sir Anthony's Housekeeper', Michael Mascoll as 'Blackamoor', Philip Talbot as 'David', Sabina Franklyn as 'Lucy', Steven Law as 'Coachman', Paul Stewart, Pauline Cadell, and Stephen Gordon.

The SECOND cast from Wednesday 18 January 1984 featured Michael Hordern as 'Sir Anthony Absolute', Karl Johnson as 'Captain Jack Absolute', David Rintoul as 'Mr Faulkland', Barrie Rutter as 'Bob Acres', Geraldine McEwan as 'Mrs Malaprop', Anne Louise Lambert as 'Miss Lydia Languish', Fiona Shaw as 'Miss Julia Melville', Philip Donaghy as 'Sir Lucius O'Trigger', David Hitchen as 'David', John Challis as 'Fag', Kate Gielgud as 'Julia's Maid', Marianne Morley as 'Sir Anthony's Housekeeper', Mark Dowse as 'Tailor', Martin Garfield as 'Errand Boy', Matthew Barker as 'Blackamoor', Oengus MacNamara as 'Wig Master', Sabina Franklyn as 'Lucy', Stephen Gordon as 'Coachman', Andrew Tourell, Patricia Doyle, and Paul Stewart.

Directed by Peter Wood, with choreography by Peter Walker, sets by John Gunter, costumes by Bruce Snyder, lighting by Robert Bryan, music by Dominic Muldowney, and sound by Gabby Haynes.

1994 West End London Revival with Richard Johnson and Patricia Routledge

Opened 13 December 1994 (no previews), Closed 14 January 1995 at the Albery Theatre (now Noel Coward Theatre)

The cast featured Richard Johnson as 'Sir Anthony Absolute', James Simmons as 'Captain Jack Absolute', Adam Godley as 'Mr Faulkland', William Osborne as 'Bob Acres', Patricia Routledge as 'Mrs Malaprop', Debra Beaumont as 'Miss Lydia Languish', Emily Raymond as 'Miss Julia Melville', Billy Boyle as 'Sir Lucius O'Trigger', Caroline Holdaway as 'Lucy', Gareth Corke as 'Lenster', John Turnbull as 'Fag', Juliet Carr as 'Mrs Kate', Nick Moran as 'David', Peter Carr as 'Toby', and Philip Anthony as 'Thomas'.

Directed by Richard Cottrell, with designs by David Walker, lighting by Nigel Hollowell Howard, music by Mark Warman, and sound by Tom Lishman.

This production was originally staged at the West Sussex Chichester Festival Theatre - previewed from 29 April 1994, opened on 6 May 1994, and closed on 23 June 1994 (in repertory) - with the same cast, with the exception of Timothy West as 'Sir Anthony Absolute', Richard O'Callaghan as 'Sir Lucius O'Trigger', Abigail Cruttenden as 'Miss Lydia Languish', Deborah Cornelius as 'Mrs Kate', and Luke Healy as 'Toby'.

Prior to transferring to London's West End it embarked on a 10-week regional tour, with the same cast as for London - Sheffield Lyceum Theatre from Monday 3 October to Saturday 8 October 1994; Newcastle Theatre Royal from Monday 10 October to Saturday 15 October 1994; Richmond Theatre from Monday 24 October to Saturday 29 October 1994; Nottingham Theatre Royal from Monday 31 October to Saturday 5 November 1994; Wolverhampton Grand Theatre from Monday 7 November to Saturday 12 November 1994; Malvern Festival Theatre from Monday 14 November to Saturday 19 November 1994; Edinburgh Kings Theatre from Monday 21 November to Saturday 26 November 1994; and Guildford Yvonne Arnaud Theatre from Monday 28 November 1994 to 10 December 1994 - followed by a transfer to London's Albery Theatre where it played a strictly limited five-week season.

2000 London Revival with Benjamin Whitrow and Wendy Craig

Previewed 7 December 2000, Opened 18 December 2000, Closed 17 April 2001 (in repertory) at the Barbican Theatre

The cast featured Benjamin Whitrow as 'Sir Anthony Absolute', David Tennant as 'Captain Jack Absolute', Ian Hughes as 'Mr Faulkland', Robert Portal as 'Bob Acres', Wendy Craig as 'Mrs Malaprop', Emily Raymond as 'Miss Lydia Languish', Jacqueline Defferary as 'Miss Julia Melville', Des McAleer as 'Sir Lucius O'Trigger', Glynn Sweet as 'Thomas', Helen Weir as 'Julia's Maid', Jack Chissick as 'David', Jalaal Hartley as 'Errand Boy', Mali Harries as 'Lucy', Robert Goodale as 'Fag', Emma Swinn, and James Albrecht.

Directed by Lindsay Posner, with choreography by Jane Gibson, designs by Ashley Martin-Davis, lighting by Wolfgang Gobbel, music by Gary Yershon, and sound by Mic Pool.

Presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company.

This production was originally presented, with the same cast, at Stratford-upon-Avon Swan Theatre - previewed from 23 March 2000, opened on 30 March 2000, closed on 7 October 2000 (in repertory) - followed by a one week run at the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Playhouse Theatre - from 31 October to 4 November 2000.

Benjamin Whitrow's London theatre credits include playing the roles of 'Aleksandr Vladimirovich Serebryakov' in Michael Blakemore's revival of Anton Chekov's Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre in 1988; 'Thomas Cromwell' in Frank Hauser's revival of Robert Bolt's A Man For All Seasons at the Savoy Theatre in 1987; 'Lloyd Dallas' in Michael Blakemore's production of Michael Frayn's Noises Off at the Savoy Theatre in 1983; 'James' in Mike Ockrent's production of Peter Nichols' Passion Play at the Aldwych Theatre in 1981; 'Dr Prentice' in John Dove's revival of Joe Orton's What the Butler Saw at the Old Vic Theatre in 1979; 'Wood' in Harold Pinter's production of Simon Gray's Otherwise Engaged at the Queen's Theatre in 1975; and 'Rev. Canon Chasuble' in Jonathan Miller's revival of Oscar Wilde's The Importance Of Being Earnest at the Greenwich Theatre in 1975.

Wendy Craig's London theatre credits include playing the role of 'Josie Elliot' in William Gaskill's production of the John Osborne and Anthony Creighton play Epitaph for George Dillon at the Royal Court Theatre, and transfer to the West End's Comedy Theatre in 1958.

"Mrs Malaprop, superbly played by Wendy Craig, may be a fabulously absurd figure, whose surreal mangling of the English language (often improved in this production from Sheridan's original) offers unalloyed pleasure. But at the end Craig leaves no doubt that this is a sad, ageing, unloved woman whose romantic fantasies have been comprehensively destroyed, leaving her humiliated and alone... Benjamin Whitrow is in his element as a red-faced, gouty Sir Anthony Absolute, marvellously capturing both his explosive temper and his genuine affection for his son Jack... David Tennant has exactly the right mixture of dash, warmth and sheer nerve as Jack, playing his scenes of deception with both his father and Mrs Malaprop with splendidly suave precision. And there is outstanding support, too, from Robert Portal, unforgettably touching and absurd as that lovely country bumpkin Bob Acres, and from Des McAleer who turns the sometimes tedious Irishman Sir Lucius O'Trigger into comic gold." The Daily Telegraph

"Lindsay Posner's Royal Shakespeare Company staging of Sheridan's 18th century comedy The Rivals reportedly fizzed with comic delight in the intimate surroundings of the Swan in Stratford. Now transferred to the much larger Barbican Theatre in London, the production sometimes seems as flat as a half-drunk bottle of New Year champagne... Posner's production does provide intermittent fun But what sharp edges there are in Sheridan's comedy tend to be blunted... The roles of country squire Bob Acres and fortune hunter Lucius O'Trigger are given refreshingly low-key charm by Robert Portal and Des McAleer. But the sets of lovers - Ian Hughes's Faulkland and Jacqueline Defferary's Julia, and Emily Raymond's Lydia and David Tennant's Jack - remain amiable but dullish sparring partners... But audience warmth tends to be reserved for Wendy Craig's Mrs Malaprop, that mistress of the mangled utterance... Overall, though, the comic currency of this production seems to have been devalued since arriving from Stratford." The Times

"As conveyed by Lindsay Posner's excellent cast, the humour here feels wonderfully fresh and unforced. Lately hailed as an icon of retro-frump Seventies fashion, the divine Wendy Craig is a revelation as that 'weather beaten old she-dragon', Mrs Malaprop. It can seem like a one-joke role, but Craig mangles the dictionary with such hilariously misplaced majesty that she has you laughing out loud right to the end... But this is not a one-woman show. David Tennant's Jack is a fine mix of the winningly two-faced and aggressively single-minded. Benjamin Whitrow as his crusty Baronet father gives a vividly amusing portrait of the kind of old man who gets turned on in the most unseemly fashion simply by talking about young girls. And Robert Portal brings a splendid guileless charm to the figure of "Fighting" Bob Acres, the country booby who'd be hard put to fight a slight cold." The Independent

The Rivals in London at the Barbican Theatre previewed from 7 December 2000, opened on 18 December 2000, and closed on 17 April 2001 (in repertory)

2010 West End London Revival with Peter Bowles and Penelope Keith

Previewed 10 November 2010, opened 23 November 2010, closed 26 February 2011 at the Haymarket Theatre

A major revival of Richard Brinsley Sheridan's classic comedy The Rivals in London starring Penelope Keith and Peter Bowles

The cast featured Peter Bowles as 'Sir Anthony Absolute', Tam Williams as 'Captain Jack Absolute', Tony Gardner as 'Mr Faulkland', Keiron Self as 'Bob Acres', Penelope Keith as 'Mrs Malaprop', Robyn Addison as 'Miss Lydia Languish', Annabel Scholey as 'Miss Julia Melville', Gerard Murphy as 'Sir Lucius O'Trigger', Bishanyia Vincent as 'Julia's Maid', Carlyss Peer as 'Lucy', Edward Harrison as 'David'/'Faulkland's Servant', Ian Conningham as 'Fag', Laura Darrall as 'Whore'/'Maid', Martin Bishop as 'Thomas', and Rhys Jennings as 'Errand Boy'.

Directed by Peter Hall, with choreography by Ian Brener, sets by Simon Higlett, costumes by Christopher Woods, lighting by Jason Taylor, music by Mick Sands, and sound by Gregory Clarke.

Penelope Keith and Peter Bowles are perhaps best known for their lead roles in one of the most watched British sitcoms of all time To The Manor Born. Watched by millions In To the Manor Born centred around the 'love-hate' relationship between the formidable 'Audrey fforbes-Hamilton', played by Penelope Keith, and the dashing 'Richard DeVere', played by Peter Bowles. Now they are reunited to perform together on stage for the first time in Sheridan's delightful period romp.

Penelope Keith's London theatre credits include playing the roles of 'Lady Bracknell' in Peter Gill's revival of Oscar Wilde's The Importance Of Being Earnest at the Vaudeville Theatre in 2008; 'Madame Arcati' in Thea Sharrock revival of Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit at the Savoy Theatre in 2004; 'Hester Collyer' in Alan Strachan's revival of Terrence Rattigan's The Deep Blue Sea at the Haymarket Theatre in 1988; 'Judith Bliss' in Kim Grant's revival of Noel Coward's Hay Fever at the Queen's Theatre in 1984; 'Maggie Hobson' in Ronald Eyre's revival of Harold Brighouse's Hobson's Choice at the Haymarket Theatre in 1982; and 'Lady Driver' in Michael Rudman's production of Michael Frayn's Donkeys' Years at the Globe Theatre in 1976.

Peter Bowles' London theatre credits include playing the roles of 'David Bliss' in Peter Hall's revival of Noel Coward's Hay Fever at the Haymarket Theatre Royal in 2006; 'Joseph Duveen' in Harold Pinter's production of Simon Gray's Old Masters at the Comedy Theatre in 2004; 'Roat' in Joe Harmston's revival of Frederick Knott's Wait Until Dark at the Garrick Theatre in 2003; 'Andrew Wyke' in Elijah Moshinsky's revival of Anthony Shaffer's Sleuth at the Apollo Theatre in 2002; 'Beau Brummell' in Caroline Hunt's production of Ron Hutchinson's The Beau at the Haymarket Theatre Royal in 2001; 'Oronte' in Peter Hall's revival of Moliere's The Misanthrope at the Piccadilly Theatre in 1998; 'Gary Essendine' in Richard Olivier's revival of Noel Coward's Present Laughter at the Aldwych Theatre and transfer to the Wyndham's Theatre in 1996; 'Mr Malcolm' and 'Major Pollock' in Peter Hall's revival of Terence Rattigan's double-bill Separate Tables at the Albery Theatre in 1993; 'Archie Rice' in Robin Lefevre's revival of John Osborne's The Entertainer at the Shaftesbury Theatre in 1986; 'Prince of Salestria' in Patrick Garland's revival of Nicki Frei's Look After Lulu (AKA Mind Millie For Me) at the Haymarket Theatre in 1978; 'Paul' in Eric Thompson's production of Alan Ayckbourn's Absent Friends at the Garrick Theatre in 1975; and 'Kiril Glagolyev' in George Devine and John Blatchley's production of Anton Chekhov's Platonov at the Royal Court Theatre in 1960.

This production was originally staged, with the same cast, at the Bath Theatre Royal - previewed from Tuesday 7 September 2010, opened on Monday 13 September 2010 and closed on Saturday 18 September 2010 - after which it went on a seven-week regional tour: Richmond Theatre from Monday 20 September to Saturday 25 September 2010; Norwich Theatre Royal Norwich from Monday 27 September to Saturday 2 October 2010; Cambridge Arts Theatre from Monday 4 October to Saturday 9 October 2010; Nottingham Theatre Royal Notttingham from Monday 11 October to Saturday 16 October 2010; Brighton Theatre Royal Brighton from Monday 18 October to Saturday 23 October 2010; Malvern Festival Theatre from Monday 25 October to Saturday 30 October 2010; and Chichester Festival Theatre from Monday 1 November to Saturday 6 November 2010.

"The real pleasure of this play is in the characters, none more so than Mrs Malaprop, whose glorious abuse of the language instantly passed into the English bloodstream... Penelope Keith's delivery has a delicious freshness and understatedness - Mrs Malaprop's verbal dysfunction stems from a passion for literature, after all - which makes her more than a figure of fun... Peter Bowles is terrific as Sir Anthony Absolute, surely the most lovable fire-breathing father in English literature... In Peter Hall's elegant production, staged on a replica of the city's golden Royal Crescent, the action moves seamlessly from the gracious streets to grand interiors, and is filled with cracking performances, not least Robyn Addison's arrogantly languorous Lydia, Tony Gardner's paranoid Faulkland forever testing the loyalty of his fiancee Julia (the exceptionally lovely Annabel Scholey), and Keiron Self as the gentle rustic Bob Acres. This is heritage theatre, but it is a fine example and is well worth a preservation order." The Mail on Sunday

"All those years in To the Manor Born and The Good Life have established Penelope Keith as a fully paid-up national treasure. Whether she's a stage actress of any great distinction, is, however, a moot point... As a powdered, pompadoured, pouting Mrs Malaprop in Sir Peter Hall's production of The Rivals, I am afraid that she has, once again, managed to plumb the shallows. Granted, she milks the part for all the cheap laughs to be had, with her mangling of the English language, but she fails to grasp that hers is ultimately an intensely vulnerable, if not tragic, character... Still, I enjoyed Peter Bowles's lusty, Sindenesque turn as Sir Anthony Absolute, and, of the youthful romantic interests, Tam Williams and Robyn Addison acquit themselves with distinction." The Sunday Telegraph

"Out of a picture-book pop-up of Bath's Royal Crescent, characters issue forth and deliver epigram-strewn speeches like arias in an opera. When Peter Hall's actors hit the right note, it's exquisite. Penelope Keith is hilarious as the verbally discombobulated Mrs Malaprop, and Peter Bowles delivers a sterling turn as Jack's frenzied father. They're hugely aided by Tony Gardner and Annabel Scholey as a love-addled misanthrope and his long-suffering fiancee. Not every couple can render this degree of artful foppery palatable, though, and the pace sags in the overblown second half. But this rigorous comedy of 18th-century manners is dusted off and displayed with clock-work precision, poise and dazzling clarity." The London Metro

The Rivals in London at the Haymarket Theatre previewed from 10 November 2010, opened on 23 November 2010, and closed on 26 February 2011.