Thursday, 15 September 2016

The Rover

I wasn't sure what to expect when I booked to see the RSC production of Aphra Behn's 'The Rover'. I was vaguely aware that Behn was a Restoration playwright, but I didn't know much more than that, nor did I know the play.

The play was written in 1681, but set a little earlier, during the Interregnum, and features a group of Cavaliers in exile, in (unspecified) foreign parts. I would guess that tin the original they were in Spain or Italy, but here there is a very definite South American feel.

Joseph Millson is Willmore, the titular Rover - larger than life, like a slightly more nuanced Lord Flashheart - outrageously confident and swaggeringly sexy. 

He, and friends Colonel Belvile (Patrick Robinson), Frederick (Patrick Knowles) and their inept but wealthy friend, Blunt (Leander Deeny) visit town at carnival time, when the world is turned upside down.

Between meetings with various prostitutes and carnival goers, they meet up with the three sisters of Don Pedro (Gyuri Sarossy), who, in defiance of convention and their brother, dress up as assorted gypsies and young men and go out to have fun and meet attractive men, during carnival.

Florinda (Frances McNamee) is keen to escape her father's plan to marry her off to an elderly and wealthy widower, and her brother's plan to marry her off to his young and eligable friend Don Antonio (Jamie Wilkes), as she has already fallen in love with Colonel Belvile. Hellena (Faye Castelow) wishes to avoid becoming a nun, or at the very least, to have some fun before she is immured in a nunnery. And Valeria (Emma Noakes) is just along for the hell of it (unless I missed something!) 

Inevitably, they encountered the Rover and his friends.....

And there are lots of issues with mistaken identity, duels, rivalry in love (or at least lust) and a spot of cross-dressing.

It's a joyous, very physical production, with refreshingly strong and independent female characters. Hellena is more than a match for Willmore, both intellectually and sexually. 

It's also a very intimate performance. There are ad libs to the audience (Willmore entered swinging on a rope from the gallery , and commented 'that went better in rehearsal', and there was at least one member of the audience drawn into dancing on the stage.

I can't remember when I last went to a show which was so much fun!

(Interestingly, the character of the Rover may well have been based in part upon John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester (of whom more later) who may have been a lover of Behn's, and / or his father, Henry Wilmot, who helped Charles I to escape.

The play is at Stratford until February and is well worth seeing, if you get the chance. I'm tempted to go again, myself! 

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