Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Rover by Aphra Behn, Sothwark Playhouse, 2-Jul-2009 – directed by Naomi Jones

I can't claim that Aphra Behn was a great playwright (I would go so far as good) although she appears to have been the equal, in writing, of many of her contemporaries. It is problematic that these contemporaries were are Restoration playwrights whose work (with a few exceptions) is under-performed and often seen as second rate. Behn has another handicap because as practically the first woman to earn her living by the pen, it often seems that her work is supposed to support some vast Feminist edifice and every word of hers is to be solemnly uttered as if it were a votive flower let fall on to the author's grave.
Flowery writing aside, basically she's good but I think her Restoration and Feminist burdens cause people to shy away and unjustly neglect her.
Fortunately it isn't the case in this production: It appears that the cast wanted to treat it with much of the fun and spirit with which it was written. I was reminded of why I have always thought of this as one of my favourite plays (ever since I first saw it 30 years ago).
This not a perfect play of course the plot can feel like trying to concentrate on a single ball in the hands of a juggler using 6 identical balls, some characters feel under-used or underdeveloped (particularly the Viceroy's son Don Antonio and Valeria the cousin of the sisters Florinda and Helena) and there are a couple of near rapes that are too easily forgiven (perhaps just for modern tastes).
Both halves of the play started in the theatre's bar area before we were sent into a nearby street (the main theatre where we could all sit). This worked quite well although, as with any promenade production it was sometimes difficult to see the actors through the other audience members, Also there was a little awkwardness when the actors had to manhandle the audience to clear space for an apparently rushed and impetuous duel. Also getting the audience into their seats did seem to delay the action a bit, although they did occur during at fairly logical places in the piece.
The light touch and sense of enjoyment in this production made me hope that others will be prepared investigate Ms Behn, it does seem to be rewarding.



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