Written in 1775, Sheridan's dialogue crackles with wit even today. Captain Absolute, masquerading as Ensign Beverly, is courting a beautiful young heiress, Lydia Languish. Her aunt Mrs Malaprop has other ideas - as do his rivals, Bob Acres and Sir Lucius O'Trigger. Expect rapiers at dawn, pistols at elevenses, deceit, double deceit and double double deceit and all in the name of love!
Lydia Languish is a wealthy aristocratic young woman who has a fondness for sentimental and romantic literature and tries to apply the melodrama of the novels she reads to her own life. She is protected by her guardian and aunt, Mrs. Malaprop - a woman who is very talkative and opinionated but who often gets her words wrong. Lydia and Mrs. Malaprop have a wily maid, Lucy, who manages the two women and their admirers whilst being rewarded handsomely for her troubles. She pretends to be simple but reveals her cunning when talking to the audience.
Lydia has three men pursuing her - the rivals.
The first of these is Captain Jack Absolute, he is the son of wealthy Sir Anthony and a captain in the army, who is pretending to be a lowly ensign, Beverly, as he knows the class difference will appeal to Lydia's romantic streak. He is a smooth, charming chancer.
The second is Bob Acres, a cowardly country squire, who becomes increasingly more absurd in his attempts to impress Lydia and appear sophisticated. He is the buffoon, completely lacking in self-awareness and overly interested in how he appears to others - very likeable but clownish.
The third is Sir Lucius O'Trigger, a bawdy, older, penniless Irish gentleman, who believes he is swapping letters with Lydia but is actually corresponding with Mrs. Malaprop, who believes he is in love with her.
Jack's father, Sir Anthony Absolute, is a gout-ridden old baronet who comes to Bath to marry off his son. He is a very funny character particularly when he is blustering and losing his temper with Jack.
Lydia has a friend and cousin, Julia, who is the genuine, practical and devoted fiancÚ of Jack's friend, Faulkland, who constantly torments himself about how much she really loves him. He is the eternal pessimist about love.
There is also a coterie of servants who support and satirise the antics of their employers.
The play open as Jack and Sir Anthony's servants meet in Bath and explain that their masters are both unexpectedly there…