Reading The Rover with 18 other Aphra Behn afficionados in St Peter’s church in Canterbury. With an audience of curious onlookers who stayed and stayed, even as the church got colder and colder. That might not be everyone’s ideal Bank Holiday activity, but for me, nothing could have been more dazzling. And the fact that this coincided with a supposedly national jubilee for Elizabeth II means that I shall always remember my version of a street party.
The Rover is not only (perhaps) Behn’s best play – certainly, her most successful, being performed in London every season for decades after her death – it is also very dear to my heart. Having taught it (at least) a hundred times over the years, and seen (I think) twelve productions, I’ve also edited it for our Cambridge Edition of the Works of Aphra Behn, and it will appear in Volume II in 2023.
But being required to ‘be’ Willmore – I had no control over the casting! – I learned how wholly callous he is. Despite the occasional flights of poetic fancy, he is entirely without conscience – or, indeed, any sense that a person might need one. Having made friends with ‘Angellica Bianca’ before we started, I was very glad when she accepted with alacrity the use of my grandsons’ mock-gun as she forced Willmore to back across the stage, again and again. I’d always thought it a great pity that Don Antonio should happen by just as Angellica has told Willmore that she has to kill him ‘for the publick safety of our sex’. Such a shame.
If that’s your idea of fun, do come along on Saturday 11 June to Canterbury to participate in – or just watch, if you prefer – the reading of Behn’s last play to be premiered, The Younger Brother. The play’s not as well-known as it should be, though Margarete Rubik’s edition in Volume IV of The Cambridge Edition is starting to change that. Central is Mirtilla – married, juggling with that the passionate attraction to her of two men, and herself infatuated with her page who turns out, of course, to be a woman. What’s not to enjoy?