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The Rover - Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble

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by Roy Chambers (subscribe)
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Theatre in the Park at Roma Street Parklands
QSE is back again this year with theatre in the park but for something different they are presenting The Rover. This 17th century classic tells the story of a group of amorous English in Naples at Carnival time. Written by Aphra Behn, the first professional English playwright, some will travel to the Carnival in search of a good time, others in the search of love.



So why the Rover?

The question a lot of people are asking is, why The Rover, when it isn't even Shakespeare? But the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble (QSE) has done non-Shakespearean plays before, and it is not like the Royal Shakespeare Company hasn't also done The Rover as well.

The simple reason behind them choosing to do The Rover is that they had done a reading as an ensemble of the play, and decided that they really liked it. The longer story is that when they were putting on a production of Romeo & Juliet, they also decided to do The Rover at the same time, as they had done when they staged Hamlet and also staged Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

In addition, The Rover has a lot more substantial female characters than are normally found in Shakespeare's work, and it also favours the younger actors. Making the play perfect for the ensemble to stage.

Then thanks to pandemic delays and lockdowns, they were able to put on Romeo & Juliet but were not able to plan enough rehearsals for The Rover, and so it wasn't staged last year. After all the preparation and planning, they decided, why not put it on this year!

But if you still want your fix of The Bard from the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble this year, I believe that they will be performing Macbeth at the Fringe Brisbane Festival in October and November, so stay tuned for that.

About the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble

As an ensemble theatre company, the goal is to bring actors together to learn and put on productions and has been operating since 2001 bringing Shakespeare to the people of Queensland. They also run programs in prisons, the Theatre of the Oppressed and other outreach programs, and do training for young actors. Most people though know them from their annual production staged in the Roma Streets Parklands.

About The Rover

The alternative title, The Banish'd Cavaliers, captures the essence of the story more than The Rover. It tells the story of a group of English cavaliers, banished after the English parliament's rebellion dethroned King Charles. The term cavalier basically means 'horseman' but was a term used by the anti-monarchist forces to describe the rich aristocratic supporters of the monarchy. And yes, it implies some of the same meaning as we use the word today, and many of the cavaliers in The Rover certainly do have a cavalier attitude to life.

The story is set over two days of Carnival in the Kingdom of Naples, where the well born, but now poor, cavaliers seek love or just a bit of fun during this time. The setting means that conceits such as mistaken identity can be easily engineered through the carnival practice of wearing masks, but also it is a time when the rules of society can be bent or even broken.

Aphra Behn based the play on an early work by Thomas Killigrew's play Thomaso, or The Wanderer. Aphra was the first professional English female playwright, and of course, brings a female perspective to the work. Gone is the rampant machismo of Killigrew and instead we see much more subtle and insightful dialogue, especially from the female characters. Even the men seem to have rare insights into the women of the story.

Image of Aphra Behn courtesy of Wikimedia
Image of Aphra Behn courtesy of Wikimedia


The play is meant to be raucous and a lot of fun, but addresses darker issues of revenge, betrayal and the use of women by men and men by women to get what they want. Lust and love are mixed together, as is often the way, with love being a more powerful and enduring outcome than mere desire, with both honourable and heartbreaking results.

About the production

As always, the play is performed at Roma Street Parklands Amphitheatre. You sit on the stage with the actors, meaning you get up close to the action, but the production also uses the area of the amphitheatre to great effect as well.

You sit on the stage with the actors at the Roma Street Parklands Amphitheatre
You sit on the stage with the actors at the Roma Street Parklands Amphitheatre


Rebecca Murphy's production makes good use of the young cast in a dynamic production that understands the physical space at the amphitheatre. While the production is slightly abridged in terms of removing some of the minor characters, it can still be considered close to the full production of the play.

The cavaliers in rehearsal
The cavaliers in rehearsal


Another great feature of the production is the music. The Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble's band always adds energy to their plays and is used to help bring the party atmosphere to the Carnival setting of The Rover.

The Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble band add music to the production
The Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble band add music to the production


Getting there

Driving to and parking at Roma Street Parklands is easy. The best way to access the venue is to park along Wickham Terrace. It is also easy to get there by public transportation, including both trains and buses to Roma Street Station.

Before, during & after the show

The Roma Street Parklands is a little out of the way, but with a few nice restaurants within walking distance of the parklands, though the closest tend to be a little pricey. There is the Garden Room in the park itself for people going to the 2 pm shows. The alternative is to bring a picnic or have a barbecue in the parklands before the show, especially for the early evening shows on Sundays. There are some specific areas in the parklands where you are allowed to drink alcohol as well.

Roma Street Parklands has plenty of places for barbecues or picnics before the show
Roma Street Parklands has plenty of places for barbecues or picnics before the show


Normally they have a coffee cart at the venue, but there wasn't one for the performance I attended. Given it can be a little cold in the evening, consider bringing a thermos of tea, coffee, hot chocolate or soup for the intermission. You might consider some snacks as well.

If you plan to kick on after the show, then it is a short walk to the city or a short drive or a bus trip to South Bank. After all, The Rover is about the spirit of Carnival, so why not seek a good time in honour of the play, and maybe you too will find love or at least a good time.

The Verdict

The Rover really is a fun play with a great deal of depth. It is difficult for other theatre companies to stage plays like this with a large cast without charging a lot of money. So it is a great opportunity to see something a little different but still very entertaining.

There is depth and subtly in the play, but don't worry, it is not all depth and subtly
There is depth and subtly in the play, but don't worry, it is not all depth and subtly


This is one of the most polished productions I have seen from the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble without a single weak link in the whole cast. Some of the humour doesn't necessarily translate from the 17th century to modern sensibilities, and I felt that many of the actors weren't prepared to lean into the darker jokes, but there are still plenty of lines that work well evoking a good reaction from the audience.

So go for what is a great value for money production, for the insightful dialogue written over 300 years ago, or just for the fun of the story. With many people supporting the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble's productions of Shakespeare, I hope that will also want to try another play for the ages from a different playwright.

The author attended The Rover courtesy of the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble

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Why? Fun and different theatre in the park at Roma Street Parklands
When: Performances include afternoon, dusk & evening
Phone: 0411 172 390
Where: Roma Street Parklands Amphitheatre
Cost: $36 (concession $28)
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