The Rivals



  • A comedy by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, first performedin London in 1775. The play, Sheridan's first, did not meet with immediatesuccess, being an hour longer than most works of the time; the characterof Sir Lucius O'Trigger also caused offence. After Sheridan had drasticallyrevised it, the play enjoyed a great success on its second performance11 days later. He used its profits to buy Garrick's share of DruryLane and become manager there in 1776. The play's many revivalshave included Peter Wood's 1983 production for the National Theatrewith Geraldine McEwan and Michael Hordern.

    In the story, Lydia Languish longs for a romantic elopementrather than a more conventional marriage. Accordingly, Captain JackAbsolute woos her in the guise of a penniless ensign. Confusionsmount as her aunt, Mrs Malaprop, decides to disinherit herand Bob Acres, a cowardly rival for Lydia's hand, challengesthe ensign to a duel. When the elderly Sir Lucius O'Trigger comescourting, Lydia decides to accept Jack. The play is best known forthe outrageous verbal solecisms of Mrs Malaprop, which gavethe word 'malapropism' to the language.

    In accordance with an old theatrical superstition (seetaboos and superstitions), Ellen Terry once played Lydia'scousin, Julia, without having rehearsed the play's final line. Whenshe came to speak the unfamiliar words on stage, she delivered theline on an upward inflection. The curtain stayed up and John Buckstone,a deaf actor playing Bob Acres, stunned the audience by shouting acrossthe stage at the prompter, "Eh! Eh! What does this mean? Whythe devil don't you bring down the curtain?"