Blackbird theatre celebrates 10 years with production of The Rivals by father-daughter duo

The Rivals is a comedy of manners by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, best known for The School for Scandal.

The Rivals is a comedy of manners by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, best known for The School for Scandal

Martin Happer and Emma Slipp star in The Rivals, a comedy of manners which runs until Jan. 23 at The Cultch Historic Theatre. ( Tim Matheson)

As the daughter of award-winning actor and director John Wright — who directed everything from Greek tragedies to episodes of The BeachcombersJohnna Wright grew up in the world of theatre, and it's perhaps not surprising that she ended up in the same profession.

"If I wanted to rebel I could've become a stockbroker," said Johnna, the associate artistic director of Blackbird Theatre, a classical theatre company that her father founded.

"When I went to university I thought I'll just take the courses I'm interested in, and by the time I was finished I was only qualified to work in theatre," she laughed.

With her father as artistic director, Johnna is the director of the theatre company's newest production: The Rivals, a comedy of manners by 18th century Irish playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan.

The show, which marks the theatre company's tenth anniversary, is playing at the Cultch Historic Theatre in Vancouver until Jan. 23.

A tale of mistaken identity

The Rivals is a tale of romance, misadventure and mistaken identity.

It tells the story of Lydia Languish, a wealthy young heiress whose aunt Mrs. Malaprop arranges for her to marry Jack Absolute — Mrs. Malaprop frequently uses words incorrectly, to hilarious effect and the word 'malapropism' was coined thanks to this play.

Lydia Languish however, wants to marry for love instead of money, "but to her that means she wants to marry a poverty-stricken young man and live in a hovel with him," Johnna said.

"Jack Absolute has fallen in love with her but he's a captain in the army and has a little inheritance … so he basically has spent six months or so persuading her that he is the lowly Ensign Beverley, and once he feels sure that she's in love with him, he'll tell her the truth."

John, who prefers this play over Sheridan's more well-known work The School for Scandal, said they chose this work because 18th-century British comedy is an important period in the classics, which is the primary focus of Blackbird Theatre.


"It's a period of great treasures in comedy … they were full of life and energy and some of the most fantastic theatre characters ever written found their life during that time," he said.  

"It may have been a reaction to the silliness of the time."

Johnna said there was much that could have been be satirized about this era: "The way that people dressed, what was considered to be appropriate manners, what was considered to be appropriate activities for people was so regimented, and to me, so artificial.

"It's the era of the men in powdered wigs, and the knee britches and the bows on the shoes."

That was why Johnna moved the time period of the play later, "to an era where they would just look more like real people."

Johnna said she enjoyed working with her father because of the feedback he provided as an artistic director.

"It's always really important to have it be somebody that you know well and whose work I've seen and who I know knows what he's doing," she said.

John felt the same: "It feels like the most natural thing in the world, in every respect."

To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled: The Rivals, a comedy of manners, is latest production by father-daughter duo at Blackbird Theatre


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