Tuesday 14 August 2012

Theatre review: The Rover, or, The Banish'd Cavaliers

Helping to fill a relatively quiet August is a list of firsts: My first trip to the New Diorama, and my first time seeing a play by Aphra Behn - herself England's first-ever professional female playwright. Sadly although there's unmistakable signs that the play itself is an interesting example of a rather dark Restoration comedy, Pell Mell theatre company didn't make anywhere near as good a first impression. In The Rover three (or possibly four - the identity of some of the supporting characters are among the many things that are a bit vague here) English cavaliers arrive in Naples during a carnival and proceed to pursue the local women: Whether, like Belville (Leo Marcus Wan) this means trying to secure the hand in marriage of his true love or, like Willmore (Felix Trench) it means trying to get into the pants of the city's many prostitutes, preferably for free.

I have very little to say about Natalie York's production really as it's rather bereft of ideas. There's nothing wrong with a minimalist staging but I never got any sense of location or character background, so the storytelling is very fuzzy for way too long. Apart from a general tendency to mug there's been little put into the comedy, which consequently fails to raise a smile, let alone a laugh. And The Rover is a play with quite a sinister side (for instance Georgina Morrell's Florinda spends almost all her time trying to avoid being raped) but both the broader comedy and the darker touches are dealt with in the same dispassionate way by York. Despite the amount of time the characters spend in masks there's no whiff of a carnival atmosphere - in fact the only decoration of this rather soulless performance space is a stage covered in straw, presumably evoking a generic old-timeyness but hardly conveying the impression of a 17th century red light district (and it's as welcome a sight to a hayfever-suffering audience member as you would imagine.) There's a couple of decent performances in there, a lot of dodgy ones and one gobsmackingly bad one, but overall this seems to me a potentially sparkling play transformed into a dreary evening.

The Rover, or, The Banish'd Cavaliers by Aphra Behn is booking until the 25th of August at the New Diorama Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes including interval.

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