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The Rover review at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon – ‘boisterous, lively and very funny’

Alexandra Gilbreath and Joseph Millson in the rover at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon. Photo: Ellie Kurttz Alexandra Gilbreath and Joseph Millson in the Rover at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon. Photo: Ellie Kurttz

A sense of mischief and abandon runs through Loveday Ingram’s production of Aphra Behn’s landmark play of the 1670s. Masked dancers populate Lez Brotherston’s wrought iron set, beckoning, writhing, grinding.

In The Rover a trio of young women, whose futures are mapped out for them, use the backdrop of carnival to disguise themselves as gypsies and taste something of the world. At the same time a group of English cavaliers arrive in this hot, foreign land with pleasure on their minds.

In some of the earlier scenes this insistence on riotous energy can feel forced. Some of the slapstick is overdone and a flamenco dance-off between two of the characters isn’t as funny as it seems intended to be. But things get tighter as the production progresses and it begins to work its magic.

Much of this is down to Joseph Millson. He’s a joy to behold as the titular bounder Willmore, leather-trousered and lavishly bearded, raffish and whisky tongued. He’s a glorious drunkard and has thrillingly articulate hips – the temperature dips a bit when he’s offstage. Alongside him there’s a great comic turn from Leander Deeny and strong support from Faye Castelow, as a young woman keen to experience life before she is shunted off to a nunnery. But it’s Alexandra Gilbreath, as the wronged courtesan, who brings some necessary emotional weight to the piece, giving a rich, poignant performance. She’s the heart of a production that doesn’t tiptoe around the problematic nature of some of the material – 17th century ideas of consent leave a lot to be desired – and recognises that the play is essentially about all the many ways that a woman can be bought and sold.

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Boisterous, lively and very funny revival of Aphra Behn’s landmark play