Runs until 11 February 2017
Mistaken identity, revenge, star crossed lovers, humour and Latin American music: what more could you want from a play? The RSC’s revival of one of the lesser-performed Restoration Comedies delights the audience with fast-paced wit and humour in Loveday Ingram’s directorial masterpiece The Rover. Set in the sinful fervour of the South American carnival, the story follows three young cavaliers in exile whose paths cross with three women looking for love and freedom. Ingram expertly navigates the multiple, complex plotlines with practised ease, making for a stunningly vibrant production.
Walking into The Swan, the audience are greeted by live salsa music as a few of the actors walk around and serenade the audience, even bringing a delighted lady on stage to dance with them, inviting you to join in with their fun. Fully absorbing and immersive from the beginning – you don’t stand a chance. Special mention must be made to the entire team of creatives, Lez Brotherston’s gorgeously provocative costumes and faux colonial set make the whole production all the more enjoyable. Fairy lights draped in the rafters, gorgeously chaotic choreography, and the music of Latin America all create the perfect atmosphere for this seductive comedy. The only thing that makes the production even better is the ensemble’s chemistry.
Aphra Behn’s bawdy, exuberant script is delivered with rapid-fire surety. The titular character, Willmore or the ‘rover’, played by Joseph Millson, is a saucy, swashbuckling rogue. Think Jack Sparrow meets Casanova. Played with passion and panache, Millson gives an incredibly flamboyant performance with near perfect comedic timing. His performance was only enhanced by his interactions with his two love interests in the play, Hellena (Faye Castelow) and Angelica (Alexandra Gilbreath). Their witty repartee was as self-deprecating as it was enjoyable. Castelow’s Hellena was a quick-talking ball of energy, whose youth and desire for excitement was both endearing and entertaining. The playfulness of Castelow and Millson’s interactions was a joy to watch. Conversely, Gilbreath’s husky mistress was manic, sensual and imperious. Her descent from cold, commanding mistress to a woman betrayed by love, was just incredible. She somehow managed to pull off the ever-elusive dichotomy of being hysterically funny and genuinely heartbroken.
“the cast is enjoying this almost as much as you”
On the other side of the story, there were the ‘star-crossed’ lovers Florinda (Frances McNamee) and Belville (Patrick Robinson), who managed to create a believably sweet love story without falling into the trap of being saccharine. Special mention must also be made to Leander Deeny’s portrayal of the hapless Essex boy Blunt. His character could easily have fallen into the annoying sub-plot category. Yet, he managed to steer away from this so successfully that his pitiable character turned into a lovable, stuttering man who had been wronged by a thieving whore. In his debut season at the RSC, this is a great start for him.
Though there is a penchant for overacting, this doesn’t detract from the play at all. In fact, it adds an almost vaudevillian, burlesque feel to the whole thing. With a script so funny, even the actors couldn’t keep it together at points. Instead of being frustrating or awkward, it just seems to make the entire piece more endearing as you realise the cast is enjoying this almost as much as you do. Shamelessly breaking the fourth wall, they bring the audience along for the ride.
The Rover was a privilege, a pleasure, and a genuine joy to watch. Ingram’s production was vibrant, colourful and full of life. The spicy atmosphere of Latin America permeates the air in the theatre, resulting in the passionate flamboyance of the ensemble being expertly translated to the audience. In case you hadn’t noticed, I cannot recommend going to see this enough. If you have the opportunity: go watch it. You won’t be disappointed. The ensemble’s energy and excitement is contagious, resulting in a truly enchanting experience that leaves you feeling elated and craving more.
Image: Royal Shakespeare Company