REVIEW: The Rover
Rape and funny misunderstandings in the new Robinson’s Brickhouse play.
Welcome to seventeenth-century comedy.
A merry place where love seems to always be around the corner, but in order to obtain it, the characters have to go through an unbelievable network of silly mistakes. The plot of The Rover, a play presented by Robinson’s Brickhouse, is basically that: a bunch of Englishmen in Italy looking for romance and a bunch of girls with basically the same goals.
Yet, in this particular version the usual romantic plot is more complex, as it also comprehends a message about rape and lad culture.
The first thing that strikes the viewer of The Rover is its staging. Sober, minimalistic, there is nothing more than a black box and two black swords. Nothing else. All the weight of the play is on the shoulders of the actors. It is a bold and risky move but totally worthy, as the cast fulfills its duty with discipline and dedication and manages to create an atmosphere out of almost nothing but their own bodies.
This physical character of the play is perfectly grasped by Peter Adefioye, who plays the main character with an interesting and disturbing blend of constant, but tacit bodily violence and selfless smoothness. He dominates the stage in every scene he is in, letting us know that he is there even when he is not directly concerned with the action.
The open red book that is always in his hand is an interesting addition to the character, creating a distance between him and his actions, ultimately saving him from becoming a stereotypical, generic rapist. Adefioye’s individuality is interesting and adds a lot to the complexity of the play. But the focus is not on the different characters per se, but the general oppositions and contradictions between them.
The most striking (also the most frontal and evident) being the differences between Laura Prince and Kat Tinnirello-Savvas, the two girls who fell for the rover. They are both charming in their own way, and their diametrically opposed performances are interesting. Prince is all about sassiness and self-confidence, whereas Tinnirello-Savvas is fragile and dependent. A refreshing contrast, especially considering the latter is a courtesan, whereas the former is supposed to become a nun.
Luke Dell is also great as a skinny and sleazy bourgeois that does not follow the testosterone-filled pattern that characterizes the other male roles. He brings necessary comic relief to the play, but he also gives a psychological depth to it, distilling frustration out of comedy. The Rover is conceived as an actor’s play and the actors respond to this situation, pulling off convincing performances without any external help and with a complicated text.
Nevertheless, there is a fundamental problem with this play: its message about rape. Don’t get me wrong, the two rape scenes are chilling, both Adefioye and Dell are menacing and disturbing, and Kate Withehouse conveys all the angst of the victim. In addition, the lighting is particularly appropriate in both scenes, effectively creating a sick but different atmosphere for each.
But the dramatic peeks that are reached in those moments do not cope well with the general atmosphere of Edwardian comedy present in most scenes. There is a contradiction between the social message about rape culture and the frivolous qui pro quos that leave the viewer in an uncomfortable position, waiting for a resolution that will bring those two elements together, but it never comes. The cheerful end is distressing, especially considering that marriage seems but a way to bond the unleashed sexuality of the male characters to the effective problems of the female ones.
This is a play that trusts its actors and provides some very interesting performances, but fails to deliver its message.