Aphra Behn’s Restoration Comedy The Rover is unusual. It’s funny. And sassy and musical, Danusia Samal sings up a storm, and sexy, Joseph Millson puts fresh buckles on his swashes, and shows sharp comic timing: and it was plain unfair not to be allowed to take Faye Castelow home with me. She is at times elfin but with a dancer’s strength of pose, boyishly robust, the graceful lady, and sometimes all three together.
Behn wasn’t a dilettante courtier but the first English woman to make a living through writing. In her life time (c.1640-1689) she had more plays staged than any other man or woman. In between she was a spy, political propagandist, translator and wrote the first British play about the Americas, using the experience of her own voyage to Surinam.
We saw the New Year’s Eve matinee at the Swan Theatre, Stratford. The holiday timing enhanced the Naples Carnival setting which provides the backdrop for sexual shenanigans. There is the usual jockeying for sex, love and security. Women are offered convents, their brother’s best mate, old men and money, young men and faithlessness, or just money. These are usually painful choices, for the women especially, but this is carnival time and rules are forgotten or turned upside down, even gender is flexible. One of the great accidental slapstick moments was Fay Castelow’s Helena, destined for a convent and out on the town to see life before it is denied to her. She was dressed as a young man, embracing the most expensive courtesan in town and having to afterwards retrieve her moustache from the shoulder of Alexandra Gilbreath, who was unaware she had acquired it.
The great advantages of RSC and NT performances are the long rehearsal times and the excellence of everything that goes on around the core acting: the music, singing, costumes, and dance. If you still think this isn’t for you, read the brief prologue and hear a witty seventeenth century woman give voice to the women she knew. Yes, the main female characters settle for husbands, but you don’t sit there dreading the capitulation of The Taming of the Shrew, the men they leave the stage with are of their own choosing. Treat yourself before 11 February.