Tré Ventour reviews The Rover by the Masque Theatre Company…
Pictures by Joe Brown
The Masque Theatre’s The Rover follows the exploits of some banished Englishmen having a merry old time in Naples, our setting. Revolving around the lead character, Willmore (Davin Eadie), we follow him and his friends in their exile. He’s a roguish fellow who falls in love with Hellena (Julia Langley), a woman who is set on experiencing true love before her brother Pedro (Matthew Fell) carts her off to a convent.
However, problems arise when the famous courtesan Angelica Bianca (Lisa Wright) falls in love with Willmore. As the story starts to show its teeth, Hellena’s older sister Florinda (Elizabeth Palmer) does her best to avoid marriage as well. Amidst these romantic arcs, there are numerous cases of mistaken identity, cross-dressing, sword fights and lust. And to be frank, it’s all rather amusing…
I had not previously heard of The Rover before watching this adaptation so I had no prior judgements. It’s a play in two parts and I thoroughly enjoyed both. However, I think it was longer than it needed to be and could have been ten minutes shorter. Certainly, it would have been all the better for it.
The Masque’s The Rover is a critique of sex, gender and sexuality via the Male Gaze – how men saw women in the seventeenth century but also how women see women. I guess we could call that second point the Female Gaze? The play seems to applaud Willmore and his crew. Simultaneously, it is filled with strong women. Yet, I use the term “strong women” lightly since there is no reason why female roles shouldn’t be written to positively enforce women. It just so happens that “strong female characters” are not the norm hence the term “strong women”. The heiress, Hellena (Langley), doesn’t care for Willmore’s promiscuity. But Angelica (Wright), loses her pure heart to Willmore and The Rover depicts women prostitutes as a people with feelings rather than as victims, an archetype in stories of all kinds.
Moreover, Angelica becomes this voice of sexual double standards, a voice that rings through to the present day. If a man sleeps with lots of women he’s a player, but if a woman sleeps with lots of men, she’s a slut. This theme plays into the 2010s’ recurring discussion of slut-shaming and woman-shaming. Look no further than Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why or any number of 2017’s Twitter scandals amongst millennials. Social media is a melting pot for these things and it’s a growing issue with young people. To quote Beauty and the Beast, it’s “a tale as old as time”.
Sexual innuendos popped up left, right and centre. Director David Chappell, with the wonderful cast, take us through the subplots seamlessly. Every scene with Willmore (Eadie) felt like I was watching a modern day Errol Flynn: ostentatious, showy and yet, ultimately brilliant with those boyish charms. Willmore may not have killed anyone but he’s repugnant in his whole aura. In his boyishness, he reminded me of Anthony Perkins in Hitchcock’s Psycho and I still couldn’t help but like him. He met his match in the equally interesting and mischievous Hellena. She was by far the most interesting to watch: witty, passionate and enchanting.
In conclusion, The Rover is a good time and it’s what comedy should be. It’s funny when it needs to be, nothing feels forced, and there’s serious undertones at times too. It uses every cliché in the book but it uses them originally and I wasn’t second-guessing what was going to happen next. With excellent performances and a nice, minimalist set, The Rover was really worth the watch.