The opulent baroque splendour of Hampton Court Palace makes a dramatic setting for Aphra Behn’s restoration comedy The Rover, presented there in conjunction with Artluxe. Thought to have been a tribute to King Charles II, the play features a Naples carnival and follows the love and lust of two sisters Florinda and Hellena. The first and eldest is being forced by her brother to marry against her will; the other is bound for convent life and intends securing the maximum amount of fun she can before becoming a nun. “There is no sinner like a young saint.” The carnival offers both girls a chance to meet other men more suited to their tastes. From then on, a battle of wits and suitors takes place as the action streams through many Palace rooms, halls and apartments.
Having been greeted in the quadrangle with the words “You are the beautiful” I thought our luck was in, until realising that far from being complimented, we were merely dividing into groups. Ours, ‘The Beautiful’ consisted of around forty people, ushered carefully through the gardens and into a plain room to witness the beginning of what became a vividly acted and highly sexed performance by a sizeable company of escorts, dancers and pleasure seekers supplementing the main players. Although written in 1664 this is no dusty old relic of a story, for these folk knew how to enjoy life! Every act seems sexually charged. Seduction, illicit meetings, intercourse, male masturbation and rape are just a few of the scenes that engross the passing audiences. All are graphically demonstrated but nothing is overdone.
Huge golden inflated penises arranged in formation prove a distracting yet amusing sight in one of the Palace’s large halls. A large curtain made of condoms draped down a stairwell and folks pleasuring themselves in a bedroom full of blow-up dolls illustrate the design team’s imagination, for this production is a feast of glorious confusion for the eyes. Costumes are a delight, suitably lightweight for easy removal. The traditional formality of state rooms desecrated by alien sex objects is completely over the top but its effectiveness is inspired. You know it’s naughty, you know it’s bad but intrigue draws you on for nothing is repulsive or too shocking. A feast of podium-mounted, scantily clad members of both sexes offering themselves for sale to the highest bidder provides further entertainment. The audience solicited to part with coins provided upon entry, with payment being the encouragement required to receive the various services upon offer.
Beatriz Romilly plays the brazen Hellena beautifully, with a sparkle of mischief that announces immediately “I’m no nun!” Daniel Weyman compliments well as her enticing partner Willmore. Promenade productions such as this are however, full ensemble works and this cast shines in that regard. Inevitably there are quieter moments, lapses of action as the the crowd moves from one location to another but keep on your toes because the story will not wait long for you. The atmospheric final scene is an exception though as the Escorts flurry to get cushions and carpets filled with onlookers before commencing.
And then, abruptly and unceremoniously, it’s all over. The cast afterall have trains to catch, just like the rest of us.
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By Gareth Richardson @BargainTheatre
2nd - 8th July 2012
The Baroque Apartments, Hampton Court Palace, KT8.