Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Roaring Girl

I've been to the theatre for what feels like the first time in an age, which is a shame because it's something I love doing. The problem isn't so much opportunity as cost - we went to Stratford last night where the average ticket price without concessions hovers around £30, throw in petrol, parking, and programmes (forget having an ice cream) and that adds up to a lot of books. There are no discounts for those of us who occupy the squeezed middle, and whilst I'm not looking for sympathy because I can't afford to see as much early seventeenth century drama as I might like, it's not very motivating to know you're working harder than ever but can afford less than ever.

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).


  1. Oh lucky you -- I love a good Jacobean drama and a trip to Stratford sounds heaven. What a pity theatre ticket prices are so high, though I'm sure they are justified in being so (hope so, anyway). Look forward to hearing about Arden of Faversham -- an excellent decision.

  2. I grumble about the price but when I'm sitting there it feels absolutely worth it - It's not a huge amount to pay for a whole stage of actors working really hard for you - unfortunately I just don't have much spare cash sloshing around and though it's great that we're doing so much to try and get young people into theatres it doesn't feel like there's much incentive for those between concession ages (at a guess 90% of Wednesday's audience were past retirement age) with mortgages and whatnot to pay for. It's also frustrating because although we're within about an hour of 4 fairly good theatres (not including Leicester's Curve which also gets some great stuff, and I can also walk to) all of them have to be driven to and all of them tend to be pricy for single adults. The Swan hadn't sold all of it's seats when we went to see The Roaring Girl so we got upgraded from cheaper 2nd gallery seats to second row ground floor ones which was great but also makes me think they should do more stand by tickets.