(Dominic Cavendish’s article appeared in the Telegraph, 9/16.)
The golden girl of Restoration drama and England’s first female playwright of significant renown, Aphra Behn (1640–1689), was in the Low Countries spying for Charles II at the time of the Great Fire of London. When she returned home, having supposedly had little luck in espionage, and saddled with debts that may have landed her in prison, she arose (like a phoenix from the flames) as a writer of phenomenal productivity. She penned not only some 19 plays but poetry, novels and short stories too.
In reviving her most successful work, The Rover (“or – The Banish’d Cavaliers”) the RSC is helping to mark the 30th anniversary of the Swan, which was inaugurated with a successful production of the play. Rather than being a dutiful exercise in self-commemoration, though, this staging, by Loveday Ingram, burns bright with devotion to its author.
Behn declared that she had lived a life “dedicated to pleasure and poetry”. That lusty exuberance attains a high-noon point of intensity both in her rendering of a tale taken from rival playwright Thomas Killigrew and in the ensemble playing, which abounds with industrial quantities of zest.