The Rover – Aphra Benn – RSC Swan Theatre

I didn’t know what to expect from this production; I don’t know the play, I don’t know very much about Aphra Benn and my only previous experience of the director, Loveday Ingram, was last year’s Othello.

I started to have an inkling when I saw that Lez Brotherston was the designer.  His sets for Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures are always colourful and interesting.

The pre-opening music also started the evening off well; we were treated to a festival of Spanish/Buena Vista Social Club music.  The musicians looked like they were enjoying themselves, Danusia Samal sang, danced and acted beautifully and Leon Lopez was the consummate lounge lizard crooner.  Pity most of the audience seemed not to notice and were more intent on anxiously finding their seats that taking a moment to smile and emit a response the endeavours of Danusia to get them to at least move to the music.

The play itself is, mostly, light, frothy and fun.  It doesn’t do to think too hard about the characters as they are, on the whole, stereotypes and don’t have enough substance to ponder on after the play has ended.

Essentially it is the story of three Spanish sisters and three exiled Cavaliers.  Two of the sisters are trying to escape their fate; Hellena to become a nun and Florinda suitors approved by her father and brother.  The Cavaliers are in Spain to enjoy the carnival.  The more sensible Belvile is in love with Florinda and Willmore, the titular Rover, is just out to enjoy himself.  The other sister and Cavalier are there to move the plot along in places.  Wound in and amongst the main plot are subplots about the courtesans of the city; one who is all mercenary and one who has found she can love.

My main beef about the story is why would Hellena want to marry the philandering Rover?  However, she goes into her marriage with her eyes open and, I expect, their life together would be colourful and exciting!

The cast looked as though they were having fun with this play.  It even got a bit pantomime when Joseph Millson managed to give Alexandra Gilbreath the giggles.  Credit to her for managing to hold it together and get her lines out.  I think the casting worked well; there was no one who seemed miscast although there were characters who didn’t seem to have much point other than to give members of the Company employment – I assume they have better parts in the two other plays.

The staging was simple and I liked the central staircase and gate arrangement.  It was effective at conveying the different venues for the action and allowed the play to take centre stage.

Overall, I really enjoyed this play and plan to try to see it again towards the end of its run to dispel the winter gloom.

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