Jack Absolute Flies Again at the National Theatre
Sheridan’s 1775 play The Rivals gets revived as a 1940s wartime, RAF-fighter-pilot-Battle-of-Britain-West-Sussex-countryside comedy starring Caroline Quentin and that bloke off Emmerdale (Kelvin Fletcher). While it leaves a few questions in its wake, it’s more or less everything viewers want it to be.
Broadly following the original story, Jack Absolute Flies Again is a story of love triangles, misunderstandings and silly schemes like pretending to be other people. It’s a bit like a Shakespearean comedy, if Shakespeare wrote in modern words and sentences. The RAF has requisitioned Mrs Malaprop’s country land for an airbase from which Jack Absolute and his fellow pilots must protect Britain. Jack’s old flame, Lydia (who he still has feelings for) arrives, but she falls for the Fitter, who prefers the maid. Meanwhile other pilots are also gunning for Lydia, and Mrs Malaprop is after Jack’s father. Hilarity ensues.
It’s not the first time The Rivals has been adapted. In fact, it probably wouldn’t be a stretch to say it’s not the thousandth time it’s been adapted. The question here is why? Why the Battle of Britain motif? There doesn’t seem to be any particular reason for it, although it does make for some somewhat epic projection sequences.
Caroline Quentin, being Caroline Quentin, is a joy to watch – fantastically funny as Mrs Malaprop, though perhaps there’s a question of whether or not the character is a little outdated. Famous for mistakenly using wrong words in place of similar sounding ones (spawning the word malapropisms), she is constantly misspeaking, but it’s only where the mistaken word is particularly clever or rude that it gets a good laugh. The simple switching of words for random similar sounding ones (which makes up 50% of Malaprop’s dialogue) gets fewer and fewer laughs as the show goes on, which is perhaps a sign that comedy has moved on since the 1770s. As such, characters like Bob Acres and Roy Faulkland trump Malaprop in the comedy department. But Lucy the maid (played wonderfully by Kerry Howard) gets more laughs than anyone. Ultimately though, when Caroline Quentin is on stage and there are people funnier still, you know you’re in for a lot of chuckles.
Jack Absolute Flies Again is funny. It’s set in the 1940s for some reason but it’s funny. It’s filled with charm and wit, easy to watch and easy to enjoy. It also happens to be at a theatre with air conditioning and where, during the interval, one can have a drink on a terrace overlooking the river, so it makes for a great summer evening.
Jack Absolute Flies Again is at the National Theatre from 14th July until 3rd September 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.