The Rove

Stories have always been at the heart of cultural inheritance – the myths we pass on about self, family and nation – and today is no different. The wildly popular ‘Serial’ podcast and documentaries like the brilliant Stories We Tell draw on the inherently unreliable nature of narrative and rejoice in that uncertainty; ultimately, though, they gain their momentum from a deep yearning for answers.

The problem with all this is that in its exploratory mission across genre and time, the play – if it even is a play – loses coherence.

In this two-man show centred on songs and stories, J. Fergus Evans similarly reaches around in the dark past in the hope that it sheds light on the future. Creatively, Evans fabricates and builds upon myths surrounding his far-gone relative, Rover Joe, in order to bring meaning to his own place in the world. Growing up in the Deep South as an Irish-American gay man, Evans has leant to use storytelling a cathartic and grounding relief to feelings of displacement.

This theme riffs along via folk songs, made all the more powerful by the very talented Rhiannon Armstrong. Stories, like folk, are mutable and subject to variation - the core stays the same but they grow in meaning every time they’re passed on.


The problem with all this is that in its exploratory mission across genre and time, the play – if it even is a play – loses coherence. It’s not quite sure what it is, nor who the players are or what their role is. At first it seems that Evans and Armstrong are characters – amplified by their initial wooden exchange – yet it soon emerges that they’re just themselves. However, there remains a sense of insincerity throughout, and his anaphoric reminders to the audience to ‘listen hard, sit back’ are preachy enough to allay any sense of personal rapport.

There were some genuinely impressive scenes that pulled at the heartstrings, as well as great ‘a-ha’ moments when everything came together; however, they were too little too late. Armstrong’s arbitrary, albeit interesting contribution regarding the importance of silence in folk – the gaps between melodies and indeed narratives – was rendered ridiculous when the two performers stared at each other in awkward silence for two minutes as we squirmed in our seats.

Evans is an undoubtedly gifted storyteller, and the violin offered an effective and atmospheric accompaniment. However, the disjointed structure spreads the momentum too thin, and for such raw, rich material as Irish American folk culture, the performance is unforgivably pretentious. The point of folk is that it’s real, it’s authentic – it’s a shame then that I just didn’t really believe him. 

Reviews by Emma Banks

Almeida Theatre

Game

★★★★
Battersea Arts Centre

The Rove

★★
National Theatre

A Taste of Honey

★★★

The Light Princess

★★★★

Blurred Lines

★★★★★

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

This is an exploration. I want to tell a story – well, my family’s story. Some of it may be true and some may not. There was a song my mom used to sing to me, which her father sang to her. It may have been Irish (that’s where he came from) or even American (that’s where I come from). Or possibly Scottish (weird, because none of us are from Scotland)'.

Using poetry and live folk music, this show is for anyone who has ever tried to untangle a family anecdote, or wished they knew more about where they came from.

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