// The Reviews Hub on ‘ROVE’ (3 stars)


Written and performed by spoken-word artist J. Fergus Evans, Rove is a tribute to folk music and an intimate exploration of family and belonging.

A blend of play, gig, poem, stand-up, memory and monologue, Rove fuses together these different traditions much like its creator, whose family heritage covers countries and continents. Evans grew up in the American South with a keen sense of his family’s Irish and American history, retold to him through stories, legends and “theories passed on as facts.” This show journeys through that history and questions what it means to belong.

His stories are interwoven with folk songs and accompanied by Rhiannon (Margaret) Armstrong, who quickly sets her stamp on the production as side-kick, friend and comedy partner to Evans with the wry line, “There’s not a lot to pass down in my family, so the eldest daughter gets the name Margaret.” Fergus himself is named after his grandfather’s surname, as a promise of remembrance to the family’s Irish homeland.

For lovers of folk music, the show has a great deal to offer: old favourites like “Wayfaring Stranger” and “Black Jack Davey” are performed with an understated, contemporary groove. Both performers sing, often accompanied by Armstrong’s violin (plus occasional shoes or a glass of water), which is brilliantly played with the use of a loop pedal to create layers of live sound. Bright green lighting renders the auditorium ethereal and other-worldly, as Evans’ and Armstrong’s voices bounce around the Bike Shed’s close brick walls.

The production is itself a little like a folk song, with verses and choruses, repeated lines and comic riffs. Segments of performance poetry narrate Rover Joe’s (a variation on Evans’ grandfather) experience of moving to Chicago and having to re-establish a sense of self, separated from all he knows by a vast expanse of ocean. Interspersed with Evans’ reflections on how memory works, we watch Rover Joe’s identity shift as he falls in love, becomes a father and passes on his heritage to his daughters.

While beautifully and poetically depicted in terms of appearance, some of the female characters in Evans’ stories lack dimension and personality: Rover Joe’s sweetheart is a waitress’ uniform and honey-coloured hair, but little more. In places too, the show’s quiet nostalgia verges on the underwhelming and, because it offers so many different performance styles, we don’t get quite enough of any of them. Rove is a buffet of different art forms, but this huge range within a performance of just over an hour renders it a little unsatisfying as a meal.

That said, the production is one that lingers thought-provokingly in the viewer’s mind after the final words have been spoken. The ending about-turns and addresses the (metaphorical) elephant that’s been lurking in the room since the show’s early moments, in a deeply affecting finale that throws a whole new set of questions onto Rove’s stories.