Friday, 30 September 2016

The Rover

A woman’s perspective of the sexual politics of the restoration proves an enlightening and saucy affair

Written by Ian Shuttlesworth


Aphra Behn. Not a distant relation of Hilary, but a restoration playwright, spy and one of the first Englishwomen to earn her living by writing. Her best known play is the 1677 comedy the rover and loveday Ingram’s rollicking production for the Royal Shakespeare Company shows why.ian

It’s Naples, it’s carnival time, and everybody – in disguise, half the time – finds themselves in love tangles involving everybody else and everybody else else. principally there are three spanish sisters (yes, in Naples) who disguise themselves to go out and find love on their own terms rather than marry whomever their father or brother tells them to, and three English Cavaliers in exile following the Civil War (not the Spanish one...), one of whom has a history with the eldest sister, another of whom... Well, let’s save him till last. Then there is the Spanish brother, his arrogant friend, and the courtesan Angellica Bianca, yours for a thousand crowns a month and a bloody bargain at the price.

So... [deep breath]: Don Pedro aims to hire Angellica, but finds himself in competition with his friend Don Antonio, so they arrange to fight, but when Antonio is injured he enlists Belvile, who doesn’t know that he’s to duel with the brother of his beloved Florinda, whose sister Hellena has ensnared Captain Willmore, but not very securely because he beats both the spaniards to Angellica, then jilts her for... well, basically, everyone who comes within hailing distance, including Hellena (again), Florinda and... no, I’ve lost track by now as well.

As Willmore, the title character and a man unable to keep his rapier in his scabbard in any sense of the phrase, Joseph millson is irresistible. He swashbuckles, he leches, he fits in some terrific drunk acting and a whole portfolio of extra lines: on press night he nearly corpsed Angellica when she was supposed to be bellowing at him. She’s played by Alexandra Gilbreath, who gets to show off both her comic and dramatic acting skills.

But the company is full of folk to fall in love with, regardless of their sex or your sexuality. Ingram uses the carnival setting to keep things sexy as well as rambunctious, and it all works a treat. A live band pounds out Latin numbers and at one point what sounded like a variation on a theme of Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag.

Through it all, author Behn walks a skilful line between the audience expectations of the time (which include sexual assault as comedy) and her own ideas about the autonomy and cleverness of women. It’s a smart, raucous, universally snoggable treat.

Until 11 February at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon: 01789-403494, www.rsc.org.uk 


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