Sizzling, sexy and wild, The Rover, a rollicking Restoration romp which opened in The Royal Shakespeare Company’sSwan Theatre tonight, is undoubtedly the venue’s smash hit of the season.
This fun-filled and saucy comedy holds nothing back with the audience falling in love with Joseph Millson’s licentious, libidinous, devil-may-care cavalier Captain Robert Willmore, the amorous rover of the title.
Written in 1677 by England’s first female playwright – and former spy – Aphra Behn, it seizes on the country’s new found permissiveness, and transports its story to steamy and exotic climes.
Instead of Behn’s Naples director Loveday Ingram has gone further afield to embrace the passion and sensuality of Latin America where the sights and sounds of Carnival fill the air and the streets throng with colour.
Passion, heat and sex – The Rover has it by the bucketload – plus a heft dose of raunchy, ribald humour that will keep you laughing throughout its 160-minute length.
Willmore is a swashbuckling, romantic, anti-hero following in the footsteps of Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks and the Three Musketeers. He lives to fight, carouse, get drunk and bed as many women as possible.
Larger than life our randy Rover, a banished Cavalier from the court of King Charles, comes ashore as carnival is in full swing.
The women are wild, the men lusty, everybody is dancing and having a good time.
The roguish captain, his chums, Captain Belville (Patrick Robinson excelling as a lovesick gentleman swordsman) and Frederick (Patrick Knowles), a quiet and rather reserved young soldier, find themselves separated from their wealthy friend, Ned Blunt, (Leander Deeny,) their meal ticket.
Alone, and without a penny to their names, in a city bursting with invitation, what are they to do in their quest to find sex?
Over at the home of Don Pedro, his three sex-starved and chaste young sisters, led by Florinda (Frances McNamee,) are desperate to break free from the confines of their class and position, and attack the carnival with a vengeance.
Raiding the dressing up box, and disguised as gypsies, they hit the streets looking for men. An inevitable and intoxicating meeting is unavoidable.
Willmore is a Tom Cat, prowling the alleys for a woman. First he meets Florinda’s wildcat sister, Hellena (Faye Castelow firing on all cylinders), who is being forced by her family to become a nun.
The rake’s interest is aroused when he learns she is a virgin and destined for the nunnery. Oh god, can it get any better?
“There is no sinner like a young saint,” he smiles lecherously.
But before they can do the deed they are separated and he comes across a picture of high class courtesan, Angellica Bianca, who is offering her bed for 1000 crowns a month. He stupidly thinks he’s in with a chance with just a bit of loose change in his pocket.
The voluptuous, husky-voiced Angellica (Alexandra Gilbreath looking sexy as hell in a black basque and stocking concoction) tempts him into her boudoir for one of the most erotic scenes of the production.
The mercury goes through the roof as the pair indulge in a steamy foreplay, dancing around each other, hurling insults. She rails at him for trying to get sex for free while he denounces her business of selling herself while unable to see the irony of men looking for brides with substantial dowries.
In the end, no matter how insincere Willmore’s flattery and honeyed-words, they just can’t keep their hands off each other. But what of Hellena? Who, if anyone will lead the commitment-shy Rover, by the nose up the aisle?
The Rover is pure, unadulterated fun, from stomping stacked-heeled showdowns between suitors, its impressive sword-fights, the side story of Blunt being rolled by a con artist and Millson’s epically good drunk scene which sees him falling into the musicians and leering after a fortunate woman in the front row.
Lez Brotherston has once again worked his magic to design a set which evokes the fretwork balconies and verandas of the unnamed Latino town; Grant Olding’s atmospheric music, played live on stage, is sensational and the costumes are gorgeous and seriously sexy.
If you book one thing at Stratford-upon-Avon this year then make it The Rover. The production runs, in rep, in the Swan Theatre until February 11 and, hopefully, surely must, transfer to London.
If you book one thing at Stratford-upon-Avon this year then make it Joseph Millson in The Rover. It’s a sexy, saucy romp that’s pure unadulterated fun.