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The Rover at The Swan Theatre - RSC Review

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by Alison Brinkworth (subscribe)
Freelance journalist in Birmingham with a passion for the dynamic theatre, art, food and fashion scene in Britain's 'Second City'.
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Sexy RSC Play By One Of Britain's First Feminists
Written by one of the early British feminists, restoration comedy The Rover may be a romping tale about a love 'em and leave 'em laughing cavalier, but it also speaks loudly about double standards between the sexes.

The RSC, The Rover, Swan Theatre, review, Aphra Behn
Lively, sexy and exotic scenes in the RSC's The Rover


The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) has revived the 17th Century play by Aphra Behn, enriching it with a sizzling atmosphere of a hot, exotic Spanish Caribbean island.

Tantalising music is around every corner and so are the laughs in this wild, sexy and mischievous comedy from director Loveday Ingram.

The Rover follows the romantic escapades of a band of cavaliers, who have landed in a foreign city during the carnival season. At the heart of it is a rom-com as faithful Colonel Belvile seeks his long-lost love, Florinda, while his lothario friend Willmore sets his sights on the famous courtesan Angellica Bianca.

The RSC, The Rover, Swan Theatre, review, Aphra Behn
Alexandra Gilbreath (centre) sizzles playing a world-famous courtesan in The Rover for the RSC


But things get into a jealous mess among the women when Willmore is distracted by Florinda's virginal sister Hellena, who is about to unwillingly start her life as a nun.

Visually, the stage is an extravagance of colour enhanced by decadent masks for the carnival. The masquerade helps Florinda and her sisters go incognito for a girls' night out to escape the attentions of their overbearing brother Don Pedro, who is also enamoured with the courtesan.

Bringing this hedonistic world to life is the excellent Joseph Millson as Willmore - the Rover of the title. Millson is a sensational mix of swash-buckling hero and old-fashioned chancer, with all the sexiness and style of Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean films.

He's such a dapper cad that he swings on to stage from a rope, can make a prostitute pay him for a night in the sack and even manages to seem charming after trying to sexually assault his friend's girlfriend late at night in a park.

The RSC, The Rover, Swan Theatre, review, Aphra Behn
(l-r) Patrick Robinson as Belvile and Joseph Millson as The Rover Willmore in the RSC's The Rover


In contrast, his sidekick Belvile is the honourable gentleman trying to fix everything that Willmore messes up. Actor Patrick Robinson, well known as Ash in BBC1's Casualty, is well cast in the role as charming Mr Right, Belvile.

Yet despite their faults, these characters are likeable because they were created by writer Aphra Behn, an early feminist of the late 1600s. She manages to mock the attitude of the cavaliers through the strong female leads and question the double standards over sexual freedom while realising the hard-drinking, free-spirited nature of the cavaliers also made them devilishly attractive in that era.

Things get steamy too, which is no wonder as Behn was well ahead of her time, renowned for writing about female pleasures and desires before a more puritanical England took hold.

The RSC, The Rover, Swan Theatre, review, Aphra Behn
Sisters Florinda (Frances McNamee), Valeria (Emma Noakes) and Hellena (Faye Castelow) disguise themselves to have fun at the carnival


Leading the sultry scenes is Alexandra Gilbreath as courtesan Angellica Bianca, giving a fine, seductive performance as the husky-toned prostitute that also has an air of vulnerability as she loses her heart to a punter.

The only darker side of the tale lies with the unlucky, naive Englishman Blunt, who is conned out of his riches by a woman and seeks revenge on other ladies in a twisted, uneasy element of the plot.

The RSC, The Rover, Swan Theatre, review, Aphra Behn
Joseph Millson makes a fantastic Willmore in The Rover at the Swan Theatre


The Rover is one of the best RSC comedies I've seen for several years at The Swan, so it's apt that it is being shown to mark the 30th birthday of the theatre. For me, it's on a par with the RSC's hugely successful and scintillating revival of A Mad World My Masters in 2013 that went on to do a UK tour.

With wonderful comic depth to most of the characters and a joy from start to finish, The Rover is an unmissable treat from the RSC. Make sure you catch it before it closes in February.

RATING:

The Rover
Swan Theatre
Stratford upon Avon
Running time:2 hrs 40 mins 20 mins interval
Until 11 February, 2017

Standard tickets cost from 16 from the RSC website or by calling
01789 403493.
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Why? Fantastic funny and sexy comedy by early British feminist
When: Until February 11, 2017
Phone: 01789 403493
Where: Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon
Cost: From 16
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