Review: The Rover

Connie Fisher 20 November 2013

7.30pm, Tue 19 to Sat 23 Nov 2013, Fitzpatrick Hall, Queens' College

Minus a little bit of shaky acting, several awkward moments and a slightly scrappy set, BATS have made an admirable attempt at a rather problematic play.

The Rover, one of best-known plays from one of our earliest female dramatists, Aphra Behn, follows the trials and tribulations of a group of men and women, all trying to find love, or, as is made rather explicit, sex. Behn highlights seventeenth-century concerns regarding the rights and treatment of women, which for a production becomes a little problematic. There are some uncomfortable rape attempts, and we're left at the end with an awkward pairing: the creepy, rakish Rover himself (Sam Clayton),  after forcefully trying to sleep with just about every woman in the vicinity, eventually settles for a willing Hellena (Olivia Stamp), our pretty, innocent heroine, who at the beginning of the play is set for the nunnery.

The group had cast the play rather cleverly in a modern holiday resort (think Magaluf with bad comedy sunglasses, bad clubbing and eighteenth-century lexis). Our three English gentlemen were three rowdy tourists, normally inebriated, and the three girls spent a lot of time lounging on sunbeds and flicking through glossy magazines. The actors grew in confidence, and when energy was high, the performance gained pace and fluidity, and displayed some promising acting.

There are a couple of scenes which should always be approached with huge caution on a stage, one of which being anything in a nightclub. We were treated to an extended scene of awkward dancing, which distracted from the speakers, and broke into a bizarre but rather hilarious solo performance of Gangnam Style from Edward Fawcett. The other is a fight scene, especially when one character whips out a miniscule knife and then refers to it as his 'sword', which the other greets with his bare fists. Fake, plasticy-looking guns are also not ideal.

Awkward undressing became a running theme. We were introduced to Hellena's brother, Don Pedro (Tim Crowter) as he changes into his swimwear, with the help of his two servants holding a small towel to protect his modesty. When he pulled down his pants while blithely carrying on his conversation with Hellena, there was definitely a missed comedy opportunity, but the laughs came thick and fast when the towel was dropped by mistake to reveal his second pair of emergency pants – and a good job he'd worn them, too. A comically boyish Blunt (Fawcett) also spend most of the play semi-naked after his encounter with a well-played thieving courtesan (Olivia Morgan), during which he ad-libbed some anachronistic insults and was tied up and gagged with a tiny rope.

Despite these faux-pas, there was definitely some intended comedy gold. Willmore grabbed Fred (Tom Lloyd-Jones) for a smooch in his happiness at his amorous success, only for Fred to throw his carton of post-night-out chips all over the stage (for all in the succeeding scenes to tread in).

I admire the bravery of staging a play with such a difficult tone, and the valiant attempt of the actors, who eventually became all rather endearing. It's also refreshing to remember that the 'student' in 'student drama' doesn't always have to be synonymous with 'professional'. The show is great for giggles – they're just not all intentional.