The Roaring Girl – RSC at the Swan Theatre
This is a dreadful play, with a complicated, ludicrous plot, clunky dialogue, and language that is not so much old-fashioned as plain unattractive. The defence that it’s a 400 year-old play and has to be judged against the standards of its time just doesn’t wash, when its time was Shakespeare’s time and this is a play being put on at Stratford by the RSC. Shakespeare used a few complicated and ludicrous plots in his time, but he never used language as artlessly as this. Is this play (by Dekker and Middleton) really worthy of the RSC’s attention?
They make a marvellous job of it, as the RSC almost always do, and it’s a wonderful romp. The set is simple, but very effective, the costumes updated to the late Victorian or Edwardian era are great fun, the music and dance (updated to late Elizabethan era!) even more so. Some of the acting and the comic timing is superb and in general the play seemed to me very well directed. But you do feel at times that the cast is achieving everything it is, despite having to fight against the limitations of the play itself. Speeches that are difficult to follow seem to be delivered in exaggerated comic style, or accompanied by action on other parts of the stage, all to distract attention from the actual words. At other times the cast resort to mocking the words directly, highlighting poor rhymes or delivering lines with a knowing glance at the audience.
Lisa Dillon gives a very powerful performance as Moll Cutpurse. She shines in a range of styles and situations, from commanding the stage on her own in the opening prologue, to playing a slapstick ensemble as a French music teacher hiding Mary behind her double bass, not to mention rapping, singing, dancing and playing guitar rock goddess-style along the way. It has to be said that she doesn’t quite carry off the ultimate test of playing a man on stage – her swinging from a chandelier is not so much devil-may-care, as goodness-will-this-thing-bear-my-weight. She is masterful though in the scene where she humiliates Laxton, who dares to think he can seduce her.
Perhaps even better was Lizzie Hopley’s beautifully judged turn as a scheming wife attempting to hide from her husband the evidence of a letter, while all the while manipulating him. Timothy Speyer was the perfect foil as her husband Gallipot, and Geoffrey Freshwater stole several other scenes as Ralph Trapdoor. Overall it was a very enjoyable evening – but just think what they could have done with a decent play.