not a book, theatre

Not a Book: Jack Absolute Flies Again!

Back in the theatre with this Sunday’s post because I had a wonderful night out on Monday night at the National Theatre. In fact it’s one of three trips to the theatre this week, which might be a record even for me!

So Jack Absolute Flies again is the new play by Richard Bean – who was behind the smash hit One Man, Two Guv’nors – and Oliver Chris. Like One Man… it’s based on another classic play, in this case Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Rivals, written in 1775. They’ve moved the action to 1940, and our sets of not so star crossed lovers are now taking part in the Battle of Britain.

If you haven’t seen the Rivals, it’s the story of Lydia Languish, a teenage heiress and Jack Absolute. It’s all very complicated with disguises but basically Lydia and Jack are in love but she wants a big romance and when Jack’s father arranges a marriage between Jack and Lydia she rejects it. Cue much tooling and groping. Or at least that’s what I think happens…

Funny story: I’ve technically seen The Rivals, but when we went to see it at the Southwark Playhouse more than a decade ago, it was an evening production on a Saturday night, after I’d worked a early shift at the radio station (and at the end of a six day week of earlies). No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stay away (and I had a nap in the interval in the hole it would improve things) and neither could Him Indoors. I’m still cross about it because it was a really cool venue and an excellent cast – including Celia Imrie – and I wish I’d managed to stay away. But it was in fact a legendary night in our relationship – where we both fell asleep on the train home and missed our stop and ended up three stops down the line, at the wrong end of Southend, three miles from home and not a cab in sight. And this was the pre-Uber era…

Anyway, back to Jack Absolute. It’s rather freely adapted, but there are still competing suitors for Lydia – this time from among the pilots – and it’s all a lot of fun, but with an undercurrent of peril behind it. And even if you haven’t heard of The Rivals, you’ve probably heard of one of its characters – Mrs Malaprop, who constantly uses words that sound like the one she means but… aren’t. Bean and Chris use this to maximum effect – often getting really quite saucy. The age recommendation is 12 plus – and I would endorse than unless you want to be trying to explain things you’d maybe rather not! Caroline Quentin is very good as the mangler of the English language – and does a good job of trying to steal every scene that she’s in.

Genuinely this was a funny and thought provoking evening and a clever update to the original which has gone it’s own way at times to add some interest and depth to some of the supporting characters. There’s a lot of fourth wall breaking which really worked for me and the projections for the flying scenes were very good too. I hope that this does really well – it was a bit empty around the top when I saw it on Monday, but tickets are very reasonably priced and it was very well worth the £20 I spent!

Jack Absolute Flies Again is at the National Theatre until September 3, and is coming to NT Live in cinemas in the autumn.

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