Theatre interlude: The Roaring Girl

5 May

RoaringGirl

Last weekend I was at the Swan Theatre, Stratford, to see the RSC’s production of The Roaring Girl, written in 1611 by Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton. The play focuses on the character of Moll Cutpurse, a cross-dressing ne’er do well based on a genuine 17th century character (real name Mary Frith) who, according to the programme, “associated herself with ruffianly swaggering and lewd company” and “to the great shame of her sex oftentimes drunk hard and distempered her head with drink”.  So, four hundred years ahead of her time then!

For reasons I don’t pretend to understand, the director, Jo Davies, chose to set this production in the 1890s – which worked okay-ish but didn’t add a great deal for me. She also employed, for the music, a (rather good) on-stage all-women rock band which I enjoyed but which was neither Jacobean nor Victorian. The main plot of the play centres on a young man, Sebastian (played by Joe Bannister) seeking to convince his father that he has fallen in love with the notorious Moll Cutpurse (played with great swagger and spark by Lisa Dillon in a bravura performance) so that his real love, Mary (Faye Castelow), of whom his father disapproves because of the inadequate dowry she will bring, looks a preferable match.  Well, what do you expect of a Jacobean comedy social realism?

What made the production interesting though was less the almost Robin Hood-like way that the character of Moll goes around righting wrongs (she seems altogether too ‘nice’) than the sub-plot concerning another battle of the sexes between shopkeepers and their wives where Lizzie Hopley (playing the apothecary’s wife, Mistree Gallipot) almost steals the show. The scene which has stayed in my mind most though was the opening one of act four, set in Sebastian’s father’s house in which Moll and Sebastian seek to conceal Mary from his father – which was high comedy.

Although lacking a real ‘wow’ factor, this production was a joy to watch, not least because of the number of strong parts for women actors. Of the men, perhaps the strongest performance came from Geoffrey Freshwater as a villainous Ralph Trapdoor

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