The Rover, Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon: ‘Irresistible’
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I needed to go and lie down in a cool, dark room after seeing Loveday Ingram’s glorious revival of Aphra Behn’s subversive 1677 Restoration romp. Lawks a-mussy, how many people are there on that stage to fall in love with!
To name only some: the defiant Frances McNamee and the deliciously pert Faye Castelow as Florinda and Hellena, two of three sisters who slip out in disguise to the carnival in their Spanish town to seek love for themselves instead of marrying whomever their brother prescribes; Patrick Robinson, an exiled English Cavalier officer who has a history with Florinda; Alexandra Gilbreath, who gets to show off both her dramatic and comic skills as the famed courtesan Angellica Bianca; Leander Deeny as Ned Blunt, who in the first half at least is the kind of weed you want to cultivate; and Gyuri Sarossy as the ladies’ brother Don Pedro, who sports a nice line in brocaded boxer shorts.
Most irresistible of all is Joseph Millson in the title role as Willmore, who just can’t keep his rapier in his scabbard, in any sense. When he’s not swashbuckling all over the place he’s chasing Angellica, Hellena or frankly anyone who ventures within hailing distance. He also engages in the finest comic-drunk acting I’ve seen in an age, and keeps inserting extra lines to the extent that on press night he nearly corpsed Gilbreath mid-fury.
This is all part of the fun. Ingram plays up the carnival atmosphere to emphasise both the misrule and the sexiness. A live band pounds out Latin numbers and at one point what sounded like the 1980s dance tune “Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag”. None of it downplays either the wit or the intellectual audacity of Behn, the first Englishwoman to earn a living as a writer.
It deserves to be more widely seen. Since the Royal Shakespeare Company restored its relationship with London’s Barbican, few of its productions have transferred into the West End proper. This one would be a doozy.
To February 11, rsc.org.uk
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