Review: The Roaring Girl

By Richard Lutz.

Swan Theatre, Stratford on Avon

Stratford’s Swan Theatre, with its thrust stage surrounded on 3 sides by  soaring vertical wooden galleries, is one of the most handsome in Britain. It was built to house works associated with Shakespare- to give a new slant to the playwright’s own productions and life.

There have been notable successes: The Rover with a piratical Jeremy Irons; the exotic Island Princess by John Fletcher (who collaborated with Shakespeare)  and Marlowe’s Tambourlaine with its monstrous actors striding the stage on stilts.

The Royal Shakeaspeare Company opens its summer season here with The Roaring Girl. This, unfortunately, isn’t one of the greats. It doesn’t so much roar as posture and shout. Which is a pity because it is an intriguingly modern play from about 1610 that stands Jacobean sexual politics on its head. It was co-written  by Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middletom, probably just as Shakespeare himself was finishing off The Tempest or The Winter’s Tale, and in many ways was streets ahead in what the writers were  saying.

But it remains a wordy play with convoluted sub-plots that at times would  confuse even the most dedicated Jacobean fan.

As a play, it’s one of a kind. It reflects the real life of Mary Frith, also known as  Moll Cutpurse, a cross dressing gadabout of  lowlife London. The storyline is straightforward: a young man makes believe he has fallen for notorious Moll in order that his father will favour the girl he is really in love with. But Moll is simply too radical, too controversial to handle. Things get out of hand.

Played by actress Lisa Dillon, who swaggers and tries her best to play a thieving street-smart  bi-sexual brawler, she is a character who defies the times in which it’s written: she doesn’t marry, or die a heroine and successfully  takes on the noisy empty-headed gallants of the day who just want to have their wicked, wasted way. But I would say a quarter of the script should have been pruned to ensure it was tighter and more digestible. Dillon herself seems to lose control of great swathes of script- and maybe it isn’t her fault.

Director Jo Davies has set this early 17th century play is set in Victorian times – with its double-edged perspective on sexual mores – and  uses a modern rock band to liven it up and drag it kicking and screaming into the 21st century. So, at times the audience is confronted with a boisterous comedy from 1610, designed and dressed up in Victorian clothes with a raunchy bluesy band backing a hip hop production number. Whew.

It ends in a bit of mishmash. Somewhere there is a better play there about sexual politics and a gal who just played the game her own way and lived to tell the tale.

tix: 0844 800 1114

’til: 30th September