Mark Ravenhill is a contemporary playwright like no other. Not all the British writer’s works have been successful, but he’s never been afraid to say what he thinks needs to be said. Mother Clap’s Molly House, first performed at The National, London, in 2001, is a riotous play with songs. It quite rightly has got another outing at the Newie for Mardi Gras.
It’s London in the early 18th century. Mrs Tull has got a few problems, and a straying husband is just one of them. The local prostitutes and main customers of her frock hire business are proving a headache. The apprentice Martin keeps taking off and won’t say where he goes when he’s “a-wandering”. Then Mr Tull up and dies. There’s little mercy on streets of this town and losing a husband can mean a bleak future. Still chancing upon Martin and his mates in skirts, Mrs Tull becomes aware of the gay subculture and has an idea to set up a “molly house”. And so Mrs Tull becomes Mother Clap and in doing so provides a safe-haven for all. Meanwhile in the new millennium a few wealthy gay Londoners are planning an orgy.
Louise Fischer’s production makes great use of the large stage area, and the scene shifts to modern London and back are well handled. This work dictates a no-holds-barred approach and the energetic cast prove up to the task. The action is played in front of and sometimes behind, designer Bethany Sheehan’s set of large scrim screens, an arresting feature being four suspended period underdresses.
Music plays an important part in the show and everyone seems to enjoy the songs (by Matthew Scott) including the fine ditty ‘Come Let Us Fuck Finely’. Lord Lovaduck accompanies on piano.
There are lots of larger than life characters. On opening night, in the pivotal role of Mrs Tull, I thought Deborah Jones still had some way to go. There is already great work from Steve Corner as the transvestite seamstress Princess Serafina and Chantel Leseberg in the dual roles of Amy, an eager whore and Tina, a drug dealer’s homophobic girlfriend.
I enjoyed this immensely. The first half has some brilliant moments. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions about the writer's thoughts on the commodification of sex.
Mother Clap’s Molly House is on at New Theatre until 7 March. Bookings at www.newtheatre.org.au
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