Review: She Ventures and He Wins, The Rose Playhouse

Written in 1695 by a woman simply known as ‘Ariadne’, She Ventures and He Wins was one of six plays showcased at The Rose Playhouse as part of ‘A Festival Celebrating Pioneering Women Playwrights of The Restoration 1660 – 1720.’ Women first began to become involved with English theatre as playwrights, actors and theatre-managers in the fifty or so years after the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660. She Ventures and He Wins is a shining example as to why these works which are often neglected by history should be brought to life.

The plays centres on a cunning young woman named Charlotte (Naomi Stafford), and her friend Juliana (Eleanor Young). She devises a plan to truly get to know the man she wishes to marry by dressing as a man and talking to him in order to avoid being charmed out of her wits as she would perhaps be when meeting him as herself, the rich and beautiful Charlotte. It explores the worries regarding limitations due to gender and how she is perceived which some women, 350 years later, still experience today.  Alongside this there’s a whole range of hysterical and vibrant characters, including the stupid and adulterous Squire Wouldbe (Helena Northcote), his wife, the equally dim Dowdy (Holly Elmes), Charlotte’s suitor Lovewell (Beth Eyre), and the pair of tricksters – Freeman (Lucy Roslyn) and Urania (Angela Bull), who take great pleasure in taunting Squire Wouldbe. Jam-packed with gags and innuendo, fuelled by cross-dressing and deceit, She Ventures and He Wins is just as worthy of the stage as other recognised texts from the period, and Ariadne’s writing is as sharp and humorous as her contemporaries.

Despite The Rose Playhouse being having limited space and resources, the cast use what there is very well. Directed by Marnie Nash, this play is fast-paced and funny. It’s refreshing to watch something in which women drive the plot, and Naomi Stafford shines as the inquisitive and crafty, but simultaneously innocent Charlotte. Her equally sly cousin, Bellasira (Julie Cheung-Inhin) also gives a comic performance, and together with Eleanor Young, the three make a dream-team of independent and gutsy women. Lucy Roslyn is particularly hilarious as Freeman, specifically in a scene in which he and his wife Urania trick Squire Wouldbe into hiding. With such a great plot and brilliant premise, it’s a wonder the story hasn’t been snapped up by Hollywood for a 10 Things I Hate About You-esque film adaptation.  Written by a woman and about women, and directed and acted by women, She Ventures and He Wins is play that deserves more recognition than it has, brought to life brilliantly by the cast and crew at The Rose.

She Ventures and He Wins played at The Rose Playhouse on 16 September as part of A Festival Celebrating Pioneering Women Playwrights of The Restoration 1660 – 1720 and The Rose Salon Season. For more information, see The Rose Playhouse website.