“Come, put off this dull humour with your clothes, and assume one as gay and as fantastic as the dress my cousin Valeria and I have provided, and let’s ramble”
I’ve not been heading up to the RSC with that much regularity recently, but I’ll go anywhere for Alexandra Gilbreath and given that The Rover had the added bonus of Joseph Millson, the trip was a no-brainer. It also helped that it was written and directed by women, not that frequent an occurrence in Stratford. And written not just by any woman, Aphra Behn was one of the first professional female playwrights and this play dates from 1677.
And directed by Loveday Ingram, it is a sprightly bit of fun indeed. Set in the heady mist of carnival time, all bets are off as the normal rules of society are suspended. Three sisters disguise themselves to escape the strict futures ahead of them, and a group of Englishmen arrive in port ready and willing to create the lads on tour archetype. Chief among the sisters is Hellena, due to enter a nunnery so more than happy to make the acquaintance of the rakish and randy Willmore.
Only problem is, the courtesan Angellica Bianca has been there, done that and got the t-shirt, and it is the sparkiness that comes from this central trio that makes the play sing. Faye Castelow’s Hellena is highly charismatic, Millson’s titular rogue is a hugely dynamic stage presence flirting irresistibly with cast and audience alike and Gilbreath brings her customary intelligence to the older woman, full of emotional heft which really deepens the tone.
For Ingram doesn’t shy away from the darker moments in the text, fully acknowledging the aspects that we would consider problematic now. And thus in among all the sexiness (those bosoms, those leather trousers, that beard!) and musicality, it also becomes a satisfying piece of drama, handsomely mounted in Lez Brotherston’s iron-heavy set and lit gracefully by Tim Lutkin – hurry before it closes next week!