The Rover by Aphra Behn was directed by Philippa Watts. It was performed at the Edward Alleyn Theatre, from 23rd to 26th April 2019.
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Don Antonio, the Vice-Roy's son - Andrew Cunningham
Frederick, an English gentleman - David Gresham
Hellena, a gay young woman designed for a nun - Chloe Wall
Blunt, an English country gentleman - George Airey
Willmore, The Rover - Giles Roberts
Valeria, a kinswoman to Florinda - Hayley Blundell
Callis, governess to Florinda and Hellena - Judy Douglas
Angelica, a famous courtesan - Juliet Benning
Lucetta, a jilting wench - Maria Scognamiglio
Belvile, an English Colonel in love with Florinda - Mark Kelleher
Florinda, sister to Don Pedro - Melisa Ramadan
Don Pedro, a noble Spaniard - Michael Marsden
Stephano/Philippo/Officer - Roger Orr
Moretta, Angelica's woman - Susan Wareham
Director - Philippa Watts
Production Manager - Jan Rae
Stage Manager - Gill Daly
Assistant Stage Managers - Chloe Karpinskyj, Tracy Brook and Caroline Hutchins
Prompt - Marcia Bennie
Lighting - Emily Lamm
Sound - Sheree Clapperton
Costumes - Ruth Gordon-Weeks
Hair & make-up - Denise Biffin
Front of House - Lesley Hedley
Publicity Design - Michael Marsden
Photographer - Joshua Bradley
Box Office - Jan Rae
Review by John Hedley
Not every opening night of a Dulwich Players production coincides with a leading article in The Times about that very play. The Rover enjoyed that singular honour. The newspaper described new technology which could help resolve historical controversies over plagiarism. When Aphra Behn emerged as the first female professional playwright in 17th century Restoration England, jealous male rivals accused her of wholesale copying of other authors’ work. She was obliged to defend herself in both a prologue and postscript to The Rover.
Does it matter? Not really. The Rover is a wonderfully silly, frantic Restoration comedy from 1677 that merits its place among better-known examples of the genre. It is complex, bawdy, satirical – irreverent but not irrelevant. Young men lust after anything in a skirt and young ladies lead them on in the hope of ensnaring a husband. At Carnival time in Naples, we meet four English lads abroad being, well, laddish, and two sisters, one destined for a nunnery and another fending off an unwelcome arranged marriage, who want a bit of excitement before it is too late. Masks enable the characters not to recognise each other, leading to mistaken identities and the inevitable confusions that follow.
It is tempting to look for modern relevance in the play in the light of 21st century sexual politics. The sisters are destined to be disposed of as their father and brother decide. One of the girls narrowly escapes rape. A famous courtesan defends her profession by pointing out to a client that they both sell sex - he would reject a prospective wife if she had no dowry. Aphra Behn repeatedly makes the serious (and in her time revolutionary) point that women are responsible beings whom society should allow ownership and control of their bodies. There are profound messages among the profane exchanges.
Philippa Watts’ debut as a Director produced a fast-moving, well-staged spectacle. The pace never slackened, with the actors varying their entrances and exits while scene-shifters in period costume scurried around in a continuous flow of movement. There was a continuous flow of dialogue, too, though at times the delivery was rather too fast for the audience to appreciate some of the subtleties of the plot.
The costumes and make-up were brilliant, in colour and design, and the sword-fights smoothly choreographed and obviously enjoyed by the actors. The delicate art of avoiding impalement in the act of sitting down had (mercifully for King’s A & E) clearly been well-practised. Full use was made of the acting space in the theatre’s galleries, which meant that the lighting and sound had to be spot on, which they were.
The production marked the debut with the Dulwich Players of some impressive new talent. Giles Roberts as Willmore (the Rover) has a relaxed stage presence and performed with the right amount of swagger. Chloe Wall as (one of) Willmore’s love interests was pert and assertive as the reluctant nun, clearly determined and able to twist Willmore in a knot. Her asides to the audience were delivered in a naturally confiding manner. George Airey, as the young yokel country gentleman Blunt, gave a performance bordering on the manic, exploiting to the full some of the best comic moments.
The usual accomplished performance was delivered by Melisa Ramadan as Florinda, the older sister who keeps finding herself in compromising situations. Her clarity of voice is impressive, a vital gift when expressing the meaning of language 350 years old.
The Rover requires a large cast and fortunately the Dulwich Players have enough experienced, reliable actors to fill the supporting roles. They can all take a collective bow.
Individual praise, though, must also be given to Juliet Benning, who positively glowed as the splendid courtesan Angelica, whose mere portrait (a superbly extravagant prop) so enflames men’s desires. Letting her mercenary guard drop once in favour of the Rover’s supposed love, she was soon undeceived and driven to threaten to murder the scoundrel – one could feel the audience willing her to pull the trigger.
But that would have curtailed proceedings and not allowed for the happy ending where (almost) everyone gets what they want. That includes the audience who most certainly got what they wanted - a thoroughly lively evening’s entertainment - even if they were not quite sure what was going on all the time!