Energy and Colour: The Rover Entertains with Appealing Visuals and Fantastic Vitality

The McGill English Department’s latest production, The Rover, a classic Restoration comedy, brims with wit and physicality. Written by one of the first professional female writers in England, Aphra Behn, The Rover is set in Naples during the season of carnivals. Two young women flee their brother, who has strict plans for one to marry to a man she does not love and for the other to become a nun. In their desperation for freedom, the girls disguise themselves as gypsies and attempt to join the carnivals. However, in their hopes for liberation, they run into the rover, Wilmore (Oskar Flemer) and his gang of sailors. Of course, as in all Restoration comedies, an incredible amount of ridiculousness ensues as this fantastically energetic cast plays out a story of love, pleasure and money.

Ostensibly, The Rover is about love, the act of falling into it, and the immensely difficult process of securing its reciprocity. However, the play is underlined with important ideas of gender and financial security. One of the girls, Hellena (Sara Harvey), becomes set on the idea that she will make Wilmore her husband, as she is smitten both by his charisma and his wealth. However, her plan goes awry as Wilmore discovers Angellica Bianca (Eleonore Lamothe), a beautiful and seductive mistress, selling herself for the incredible price of a thousand crowns. Wilmore has never seen a woman he doesn’t care to woo, and the challenge of seducing such a highly charismatic and controlling woman is irresistible. His success in doing so is only one of many complications that arise in Hellena’s plan for financial and emotional security, and throughout the play, Harvey’s energetic and engaging portrayal of the character shows us how hard she has to work to detangle Wilmore’s messes again and again.

Despite being an incredibly well acted show on the whole, the two performances that stick out are those of Harvey and Flemer.  Harvey’s incredible spunk persists from the first scene to the last, filling her character with the physicality of youthfulness and the wit of a truly clever woman. Flemer is equally engaging to watch. A charismatic goof in everyday life, Flemer takes his wit to the stage to deliver another performance bursting with charm, arrogance and youth. His character’s charming silliness leaves me to believe that Flemer is a perfect fit for the role, and praise must be bestowed upon both he and director, Sean Carney.

All of this chaos and intrigue is further punctuated by the production’s beautiful use of colour and space. Indeed, the set and costumes are just as much, if not more impressive, as any other aspect of the show. Large flats painted into houses flank each side of the stage, using angles and a vanishing point to give a flattering symmetry to the composition of each scene. This frames the center of the stage as the focal point of both action and story. This spatial framing offers director Sean Carney an immense space for his scenes to play within. The set is balanced and does well to aid the scenes, but does not constrict the space or entrap the action within it.

The use of colour is equally striking and complimentary to the story and action. The costumes are truly immaculate, bringing impressive color to the stylish cuts of each jacket and dress. Each costume is extravagantly busy and relevant to both the characters and their motives. The colours of the set are likewise vibrant, but can be subtly hushed by clever lighting when appropriate.

And finally, the most interesting part of the whole set, a large, blank sheet of canvas sits upstage of the action. At once, it is lit in a triumphant red as Don Pedro (James McDaniel) and Don Antonio (Guy Ettlin) prepare for a theatrical fencing duel over a love interest. Similar to the large sets on either side of the stage, the canvas backdrop and its colors frame the happenings on stage and give context in a visual rhetoric often saved for cinema.

The Rover is perfect for those who love physical comedy, ridiculous antics, strong female characters or striking visuals and spatial awareness.  The play embodies the continuation of great work to come out of both the English Department and Sean Carney, as well as the remarkable ability of actors like Flemer and Harvey to give genuinely impressive performances over and over in many different roles. With an amazing costuming department, and a great company of supporting actors, The Rover is a must see for the fall theatre season at McGill.

The Rover runs in Moyse Hall in the Arts Building November 16th through 18th and 23rd through 25th. Tickets are $10 and can be reserved by emailing publicity.english@mcgill.ca.

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