Thursday, April 17, 2014
The Roaring Girl
The Roaring Girl was written by Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton in 1612 in response to the real life Mary Frith. Court records hold various accounts of Mary's, also known as Moll Cutpurse, exploits. She was known to dress as a man to go drinking and was picked up on various occasions for theft though she might also have been a criminal informer as well. She was certainly notorious in her own lifetime - hence the play, and thanks to Middleton and Dekker is an interesting footnote in history.
'The Roaring Girl' isn't the best play ever written - see here for a synopsis - but it is fascinating. The real Moll is lost to history but she may not have been as interesting as Dekker and Middleton's version. This Moll is a personality, she has all the swagger and confidence of someone who knows they own the streets, and of someone utterly comfortable in their own body and identity. She's one of the few characters in the play not motivated by sex (or love). Love (or sex) would be a distraction that might diminish her independence. This Moll is a truly independent character, she's also brash, intelligent, transgressive, notorious, and altogether unique.
I don't agree with The Telegraph when their critic says this doesn't come off as a jolly romp. Last night's audience seemed fairly convinced that it did. We also liked the Victorian setting, Moll is essentially shown as a contemporary character - which in many ways she is, and that works better against a late Victorian setting than it could in Jacobean costume. It means the cast can break out into very much more modern song and dance numbers (bare with, it works even if it sounds off putting) in a way that makes some sort of sense (and is a lot of fun, we were delighted by how much fun this was to watch). The Victorian scenery is an effective prompt to remind the audience of how women were treated, and still makes Moll's cross dressing feel shocking - her Victorian boys outfits are both more and less revealing than seventeenth century doublet and hose would be, and in keeping with her independent spirit she doesn't feel bound to any particular time.
The end result was that we left feeling so inspired that we both declared we'd happily watch it again (rare) and have decided to go and see Arden of Faversham in a couple of weeks time (expense be damned).