What’s the play about?
The play is about a group of young women trying to escape from an oppressive brother, an arranged marriage, and a life in a nunnery. The whole play takes place over just 24 hours, in the midst of a carnival, and during a carnival normal order and codes of social behaviour are all turned upside down – anything goes: authority is undermined, masters become servants, and the powerless suddenly have power.
During their excursion into the carnival these women come into contact with three English cavaliers who have come to the carnival in search of a good time. There’s a lot of merriment and partying in the carnival, playfulness and sensuality, but it can also be a dangerous place of deception and trickery.
The play is typical of Restoration comedy, in that it’s about the younger generation trying to overthrow the authority of the older generation, and break out and find their own way in life. What’s particularly special about The Rover, though, is that it tells a story of girls trying to take control of their life, at a time when women really had very little say in their own future.
What influences have you been looking at for your production?
The play is set in Naples, however, the designer Lez Brotherston and I have taken three of the play’s ingredients – carnival, Catholicism and a colonial society – and created our own world and location, a place that has all the same ingredients but with the feel of a South American port city. We have enjoyed exploring at the various carnivals in South America. The best part about this is the music – taking the play across the Atlantic provides music which is so incredible and sensual and sexy that it just makes you want to get up and dance. That was extremely exciting for us to create the world of the play.
We have a very talented dancer and choreographer, Nichola Treherne, doing all the dance and movement for the show. It’s been incredibly fun, bringing the carnival to life in the rehearsal room, with all the richness of South American music and sounds. I hope the audience will love it as much as we do.
All the music is being written especially for the show by composer Grant Olding, and we are weaving the carnival, full of music and dance, around the story of the girls and the English cavaliers. There’s a real sense of festivities throughout the play, sometimes in the foreground of the action, and sometimes as background, but always there.
Tell us about the Aphra Behn, who wrote the play.
Aphra Behn is considered to be the first female writer who made a living by her pen in Britain. It’s amazing she’s not more widely celebrated, considering she achieved such a phenomenal amount in her lifetime: She wrote 18 plays, all of which were published and performed – the only playwright of the time more prolific than her was Dryden.
She writes incredibly witty dialogue for all her characters, men and women, and her work’s immensely accessible and funny and, at times, challenging. Her work is without doubt some of the first in English literature where women fight for their rights so overtly.
However, she lived a fairly shocking life in the fast lane. She was arrested for debt and spent time in jail, she worked as a spy for a while – she wasn’t a respectable lady of society by any means. I suspect that people didn't approve of her lifestyle. After she died, she was maybe blacklisted for being too wild. Society might have moved against her posthumously, and that’s why she isn’t very well known today.
Do you think she’s getting the appreciation back that she deserves?
I hope it’s coming back. She’s due a rebirth, because she was clearly a phenomenal woman who achieved an extraordinary feat to earn a living as writer. Her plays were performed, and were very successful. She was the Tom Stoppard or David Hare of her day: as witty and as clever and with as strong a voice. But for some reason she's been forgotten, and it has to be partly because she was a woman who could not be tamed.
What can people expect to see and hear when they come to see The Rover? Why should audiences come and see the show?
I think people will enjoy seeing the amazing women that Behn created nearly 400 years ago, and how modern and accessible the play is. It’s about love; it's about sex; it's about all the different experiences of love: whether they are transitory, and short, and meaningless, or whether they are something that can be profound and long-lasting. The play is full of adventure, and youthful energy and joie de vivre.
The Rover plays in the Swan Theatre until 11 February 2017.