The following reviews are from the Lyttelton, NT run
Mark Ravenhill’s new play is a refreshing and original piece of work. It is a black comedy, with songs, that concerns gay sexuality in London 1726 and London 2001.
The first act is set in 1726 with Mrs Tull, who is the dressmaker to most of the whores in town. She cannot have children so she becomes attached to the apprentice boy, who keeps ‘wondering’ when he is out doing his chores! When her husband dies of the pox she is forced to take over the running of the business, but she falls out with the whores who won’t hire her dresses anymore. However, when she catches her apprentice boy in women’s clothes along with some of his friends she gets the idea of starting a ‘molly house’, a place where gay men meet up, and becomes known as ‘Mother Clap’.
In the second act we are transported to the present day and into a modern home were the wealthy residents are holding a gay orgy. However, Ravenhill cleverly switches between 1726 to the present day continuously throughout this act, which makes for some highly entertaining and contrasting scenes.
One has to warn that there is lots of language and simulated gay sex that some may find offensive, but this is used to great effect in capturing the ‘mood’ of each period. In fact, after a while you become immune to the whole thing!
Deborah Findlay as ‘Mother Clap’ is outstanding and holds the entire play together. You cannot help but feel affection for her and this is probably why she makes the part so believable. She is both funny and warm. Paul Ready is also convincing as the vulnerable apprentice boy looking for love, and then playing the modern camp boy who is experimenting with drugs and sex. Dominic Cooper is also good as a promiscuous apprentice boy. I also found Iain Mitchell very amusing as an aging queen videoing all the activities of the orgy.
The emphasis on sexual orientation and the politics of identity runs throughout this drama. From the molly’s who refuse to conform, Princess Seraphina, a man who dresses in his dead mothers clothes because this makes him less violent and gentler, and Mrs Tully who delights in being ‘Mother Clap’. Then there is Amelia the country girl who has travelled to London to make her fortune and fame as a London whore and ends up living her life dressing and acting as a man.
This relentless attack upon the moral norms of society is as devastating as it is funny. Ravenhill is telling us that the right we have earned to be individuals who are free to investigate alternative lifestyles do not free us from a concern for other people’s welfare. The two characters that I warmed too were Mrs Tully and Princess Seraphina. These were the two individuals who were willing, when necessary, to put the interests of others above their own. The other characters made little impression beyond that of maybe pity and at times even loathing.
The play has received reasonable notices from the popular press…. CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, “The play is actually a bit of a mess, with Ravenhill uneasily caught between mischievous titillation and serious moralising”. However, he goes on to say, “There is no mistaking the play's crude and cheerful vigour, and there are some fine performances.” MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, “An evening rich in rudery and ambivalence.” DAVID BENEDICT for THE INDEPENDENT says, “The only shocking thing about the evening is how splendidly enjoyable it is.”NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, “Mother Clap’s Molly House is a daring, impassioned lament for decadent gay lives, but becomes too captivated by the gay high-jinks it presents and condemns.” JOHN PETER for THE SUNDAY TIMES says, "Ravenhill's writing is tough, eloquent, sardonic.." SHRIDAN MORLEY for TELETEXT says, "It becomes increasingly clear that Ravenhill is not just a sensationalist. Mother Clap is an ambitious tragicomedy of sex and seduction..." PETER HEPPLE for THE STAGE says, "Though the second half is not as strong as the first .... the societal strictures and economic forces that lie at the heart of Ravenhill's work are strongly defined, the deliberately shocking scenes being softened by humour with a fine young company on top form."
Lasting 2 hours and 30 minutes this is a daring and intelligent play I thoroughly enjoyed.
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