Aphra Behn is acclaimed as the first professional female writer in English. Her most famous play, ’The Rover’, written in 1677 as an unashamed celebration of the cavaliers banished during the Cromwell revolution, is now revived by director Loveday Ingram. Right from the beginning, Ingram transported the audience into a night at the carnival, opening with amazing choreography accompanied by the up live, flamenco music.
The play both rejoices the rover, Willmore (Joseph Millson) and his cavalier companions, and has strong, witty women; Hellena (Faye Castelow), her sister, Florinda (Frances McNamee) and their cousin (Emma Noakes) who disguise themselves and venture out into the night of carnival where anything is possible.
The play speaks to the double standard, which limited Behn’s female peers’ sexual desires to the realm of convent, brothel, or home. All three of these amusing, rebellious women take their destiny into their own hands and endeavour in a search for love before they are either married off for fortune or sent to a nunnery by their brother Don Pedro (Gyuri Sarossy).
The libertine Willmore is a comical character we don’t want to like, but can’t help doing so. He thinks with his ‘sword’ and wants for nothing but sex. He is promised to the clever Hellena (who is definitely not suited to be a nun) but this doesn’t stop him from wanting to bed every woman that crosses his path.
The even more striking character Angellica Bianca (Alexandra Gilbreath) is a high-class courtesan who loses her ‘virgin heart’ to Willmore. Bianca, who perhaps not coincidently shares the author’s initials, becomes the voice for Behn’s s observations on sexual double standards during this period. In this show, even the actors couldn’t hold in their laughter. Alexandra Gilbreath was in fits of laughter whilst Willmore was being his comical, cheeky self. However this did not ruin the play at all, rather having the whole theatre in fits of laughter with her.
This exciting and playful play was truly an experience and had me jumping off my seat eager to join in with the fun. It is very hard not to enjoy this play, it’s funny, evocative and spirited. The fact that the play, and Aphra Behn herself, were remarkably ahead of their time, made it all the more a joy to watch.