1: This is less a formal review than an informal expansion of my thoughts upon seeing this production. Expect possible silliness.
2: This is also relatively long, since there is a lot I’ve needed to say ever since seeing the play.
How many words beginning with R can I use to describe The Rover, written by Aphra Behn, directed in this case by Loveday Ingram and produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, currently playing at the Swan Theatre?
Raunchy. Riotous. Riveting. Roistering. Rabble-rousing. Roguish. Rapacious. Resounding. Raucous. Rakish. Romp. Riot. Ravenous. Reckless.
(All of which could also describe the title character, Willmore. Who first appeared during this showing in particular not by fighting off an enemy and swinging down onto the stage via rope. Not at first, anyway. Priorities! Before the fighting and the swinging he needed to slyly help himself to an audience member’s snacks, with a winning grin. Happy serendipity, that she should have left them on the balcony beside her, at the ideal time for Joseph Millson to pilfer them!)
While I’d heard of Aphra Behn before I am most ashamed that until roughly a month ago, I knew virtually nothing about The Rover or its author. The first female English playwright, and one of the first well known English women writers in general, Behn turned to professional scribing for a living in order to settle various debts; despite her work as a spy for Charles II during the Second Anglo Dutch War, he apparently refused to pay her when she returned to England. (I wonder what she must have thought when Charles then proceeded to enjoy this particular play so much, he ordered a private showing of it.)
While celebrated in her day, she unfortunately lost favour with readers and viewers during the eighteenth and nineteenth century – only to make a triumphant comeback in the twentieth. And most fitting that, as one of the first plays to be performed at the Swan Theatre when it opened in 1986, The Rover should come back home to roost for the theatre’s thirtieth anniversary.
The plot, before it gets complicated, is as follows: