Last night was (what I think is) our last visit to Stratford and the RSC for this year. We went to see Aphra Behn's 'The Rover', partly out of a sense of guilt that none of us actually knew anything about her, or her work, despite it falling within the remit of things all 3 of us are interested in.
Aphra Behn - playwright, poet, spy, translator of science, novelist, Tory, political propagandist, royalist, and first English woman to make a living out of her writing. It's quite a CV for anyone, that it's for a woman born in 1640, and who died in 1689 is something to think about. She seems to have been both ahead of her and very much of it - certainly the Restoration period seems to have been the sort of society where such a woman could flourish.
the reason I haven't ever really explored her work before is that 'Oroonoka', the novel I've seen in book shops most often (though not available in Leicester today - I looked) never appealed to me as something to read for pleasure. I can't deny that it looks like something I should have read - but that's a long list.
'The Rover' is far more appealing. During the exile of Charles II a band of cavaliers including Colonel Belvile and Captain Willmore (possibly based on the Earl of Rochester who's family name was Wilmot) find themselves in a foreign country at carnival time. Belvile is in love with Florinda who's father and brother both have different, but equally unwelcome husbands in mind for her. Florinda wants Belvile. Her sister, Hellena (played by the very good Faye Castelow) is destined for a convent, but has other ideas.
That other idea turns out to be Willmore, the rover, who is happy enough to oblige. He's also happy to oblige the famous courtesan Angellica Bianca, and when he stumbles across Florinda she narrowly avoids being obliged too. Angellica, who for the first time has taken a lover rather than a patron, objects. With a gun. The much younger Hellena minds less - she'll take Willmore as he is, but then he does represent freedom, and what's fidelity compared to that? And it's all set against the anarchic energy of the carnival when just about anything could happen.
It was good to be back in The Swan, I love that theatre - not to big, not to small, and I've never been disappointed by anything I've seen there. I'm also increasingly of the opinion that you can't go wrong with a restoration comedy (I'm assuming the duff ones have no chances of being revived). This one was as witty, energetic, bawdy, and subversive as we could have hoped for.
I was about to start on how much 'The Rover' makes of the double standards applied to women, but on reflection I'll leave that until (if) I get round to reading the script. It was an interesting play which provided plenty to think about, but mostly what I came out thinking about was how much fun it was. Before the play even starts there's music and dancing to set the carnival mood, there is no fourth wall, the set and costumes were perfect (minimal set, gorgeous costumes made up of a clever mix of modern and period clothes) and excellent all round performances.
Joseph Millson as Willmore has the lions share of work to do, and did it with panache. He was both convincing, and very funny, as an unrepentant libertine with more than enough charm to be forgiven for his philandering. Gyuri Sarossy was brilliant as Don Pedro too, he certainly got the best underwear. But it was all excellent, honestly, go and see it!