An amorous and exhilarating blend of colour, intrigue and passion
‘The Rover’, The Royal Shakespeare Company.
Directed by Loveday Ingram
The Swan Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon until February 11th 2017
Photo Credit – Ellie Kurttz
Perhaps one of the greatest triumphs of this outstanding Loveday Ingram production is that it has drawn more widespread appreciation for the writer Aphra Behn. Secret agent, proto- feminist, novelist, translator and propagandist among other things, Behn was the first professional female writer in England and Virginia Woolf said that “it was she who earned (women) the right to speak their minds”.
Loveday Ingram discovered The Rover on a shelf in the RSC and was instantly struck by the possibilities of the exotic and amorous story. It’s easy to see the resonance in late 2016 of a group of dashing and romantic fun-lovers escaping the increasingly puritanical and small-minded shores of England to a life of hedonism and excitement in Spain. While the cavaliers of Behn’s original story, who were fleeing Cromwell’s England after the execution of King Charles 1st, found love and adventure in Southern Europe, Ingram has cleverly relocated the story to South America during Carnival. This setting, coupled with Lez Brotherston’s stunning design, allows the intertwining tales of those seeking love, adventure or freedom to coalesce into a visually stunning spectacle.
Joseph Millson delivers a dazzling performance as Captain Willmore, a licentious and eternally lustful soul, intent on debauchery and little else. The stage can barely hold his rampant ego and testosterone-soaked urges as we see a man for whom the amoral serves only as an aphrodisiac and to whom self-doubt is as alien as restrained civility. While Millson’s every moment onstage is a joyful depiction of a ‘devil-may-care’ hero, his companion, Patrick Robinson’s thoughtful Colonel Belville, is intent on finding love. Robinson offers the perfect foil for the amorous antics of Millson’s lead.
The pioneering role of Behn as a female writer in English Literature ensures a degree of fascination in the depiction of women in The Rover. Set alongside the ribald antics of the Cavaliers, are the waxing and waning fortunes of Hellena and Angelica Bianca.
Alexandra Gilbreath as Angelica and Joseph Millson as Captain Willmore. Credit Ellie Kurttz
Faye Castelow consolidates her emergence as one of the RSC’s rising stars with a sparky performance as Hellena, a young woman who, alongside her two sisters, is determined to find love before being despatched to a nunnery by their brother Don Pedro. Though bound by their obligations to their brother, the three sisters use the opportunity of Carnival to change their destiny and Castelow is outstanding as she depicts a young woman capable of adapting to the challenges she faces, both from her brother and would-be suitor.
However, the performance of RSC stalwart Alexandra Gilbreath is riveting as the courtesan Angelica Bianca. She manages to present a forceful, independent woman who is at the same time a victim of her prohibitive price-tag. Ultimately, however, she is undone by love and her scenes with Millson’s Wilmore are frequently hilarious but also moving in their intensity.
Loveday Ingram’s adaptation, alongside the addition of a live band to perform Grant Olding’s superb Latin inspired soundtrack, ensures that that the pace never drops in this intoxicating production that has the audience entranced throughout. The Rover is an amorous and exhilarating blend of colour, intrigue and passion and the perfect antidote to these dark days.