The Rover

Thu 28th – Sat 30th June 2012

reviews

Alexander Stone

at 20:22 on 1st Jul 2012

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The Rover is a play from a time when theatre was one of the few social entertainment activities of the masses. Quick, witty and full of references to the restoration period The Bristol Old Vic team, headed by director Kim Durham, have put on a fantastic performance here – all 2 hours 35 minutes of it!

The story is a classic theme of English theatre; it’s carnival time in Naples and three beautiful Italian sisters all have their reasons to be wed before the festivities are up. Enter an exiled band of English Cavaliers thirsty for drink and hungry for sex. Cue a lively tale of debauchery, sword-fighting and unexpected love. Having never seen a play by Aphra Behn – one of the first female writers – I was enthralled by the Shakespearean language matched to a decidedly frivolous play with a very modern style. Sexual innuendo comes thick and fast from the outset with lines like “I’ll but sip thee, as a cat licks cream”. Soliloquies are kept very brief; mostly interjections during conversations to keep the crowd abreast of the story. Action and laughs are always forefront.

Bristol Old Vic have chosen the Studio Theatre to stage The Rover. The traverse stage maintains a close link between the actors and audience, and provides a huge space for the swordfights and chases that ensue. At one end is a building façade in the renaissance Italian style of golden bricks, columns, and wooden shutters. This is set on two levels, with the upper a dramatic device used by a brothel to spy and comment on the proceedings. Elsewhere the stage is somewhat bare, with most of the props coming from the actors themselves. This is no criticism, as the play changes location and focus often, and too many fixed props would stifle its quick pace. The costume design is fabulous, with the Italian sisters changing regularly into beautiful new period dresses or gowns. The men all have their breeches, baggy sleeved shirts and jerkins – think Blackadder and you’re not far off.

The energy and movement of the cast was a real strong point of this production; repositioning to face the audience either side of them, moving aside to focus our eyes on the new centre of action. Swordfights that broke out a number of times were all fantastically choreographed and executed. The actors conveyed the wit and banter of The Rover without it ever feeling like farce. At its heart this is a play; not a musical or a pantomime, and this was realised perfectly.

If anything let down this production it was the length. When I saw it on a particularly hot and humid afternoon I became all too conscious of being sat down during the second half. It certainly didn’t help that the theatre was barely half-full. The Rover cries out for hearty rounds of audience laughter and applause. These are minor quibbles though, and you would be foolish to miss the opportunity to see this play.

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