Mother Clap’s Molly House

Mar 15 2024 | By | Reply More

★★★★☆   Gloriously vulgar

Bedlam theatre: Wed 13 – Sat 16 Mar 2024
Review by Thom Dibdin

The EUTC deliver a fully frank and deliciously frivolous take on Mother Clap’s Molly House, Mark Ravenhill’s dark comedy with songs, which plays the Bedlam to Saturday.

Director Conor O’Cuinn revels in Ravenhill’s use of raunchy sex acts in the staging and a script that is as potty-mouthed as it is both clever and hilarious. Yet he also creates a production which allows Ravenhill’s deeper questions about the nature of family and the commodification of sex to work their way the surface, adding his own about the loss of LBGTQ+ spaces.

Ollivia Martin and Rosalyn Harper. Pic Andrew Morris Photography

For much of its course, however, this is a jolly romp and celebration of queer culture. It is set mainly in a draper and dressmakers tally shop in 1726 London, run by the Tulls who make their money from leasing dresses out to whores by the day.

In the second half, it makes occasional flits forward in time to 2001 and a swish London flat, where a gay couple are getting ready to welcome their guests to a drug-fuelled orgy. It’s a touch heavy-handed, but the analogies between the two times are lightly worn, thanks in part to some judicious casting.

In 1726, Leo Shaw’s twitching and headache-prone Mr Tull is beginning to display the physical effects of his philandering with too many of his pox-ridden clientele. Those headaches can mean only one thing – and soon his widow is left to work out how to keep the ledger, cope with the wayward apprentice and negotiate prices with the whores.

desperate and fearful

Olivia Martin is quite magnificent as Mrs Tull. There is a desperate and fearful hesitancy about her early scenes but she grows in command – until Eli Kiakides’ Amy, a lusty young girl up from the country, falls pregnant. And rather than allow her madam Amelia (a sharp as nails Lucy Melrose) to procure her a termination, negotiates a reduction in rental so that the child will be born.

Seb Elder and Benny Harrison. Pic: Andrew Morris Photography

Into this vacuum of income strides Ted Ackery’s poised, plain-speaking and disturbingly prurient Princess Seraphina. A large bloke in a dress, which he says calms his violence, offering to help the widow and her wayward apprentice, Martin – who Benny Harrison plays with a doe-eyed naivity.

Mrs Tull’s route to financial security is obvious long before she sees it, when another apprentice boy, Thomas, follows Martin back to the shop. Camp and direct, Seb Elder as Thomas ensures there is no question about his feelings, or where Martin has been off wandering.

Soon, to her initial distaste but guided by deities Chelsea Laurik as God (of commerce) and Nash Norgaard as Eros (god of lust) and goaded by Thomas’s cross-dressing employers Kedger (Lucy Lane) and Phillips (Amiran Antadze), she is renting out her dresses to effeminate gay men, the mollies, who want a space to be themselves.

celebration

The first half is a fantastic celebration of queer culture, played out in an environment where God is who you make them. Laurik has all the poise necessary and the vocal chops to lead the hymn-like songs which set the backdrop, praising good commerce as the centre of the law, above all else.

Nash Norgaard and Chelsea Laurik with members of the company. Pic Andrew Morris Photography

Norgaard, meanwhile, is a perfectly peced and oiled beauty in little but a golden mini skirt. Think Rocky, from the Rocky Horror Show. What he lacks in the vocal department, he is every inch a big butch Eros, slinking around the stage, ready to intervene any time that lustful temptation is in the offing.

The orgy in the second half is not all it seems. What at first it appears a redundant conceit, rather dating the whole piece, gives a space for reflection away from the drama of the 18th century, driven by romance and complicated by lust.

Such reflections give voice to those differing elements of queer culture. Young guest Tom – the brilliant Benny Harrison again – E’d up to the eyeballs and newly out, just wants to party; co-host, old queen Will who Amiran Antadze gives just the right level of regret, wants to settle down.

exemplary

Make no bones, this is a thoroughly successful staging of a complex and sometimes convoluted work. O’Cuinn’s direction is exemplary, aided by Gemima Iseka-Bekano. They use every member of the 16-strong cast, with effective support from Rosalyn Harper and Elham Khosravipour as whores, the constantly on-the-move Louis Handley as a molly-come-whore, Leo Odgers as a punter and Ellie Moore as the dealer’s homophobic girlfriend in the 21st century scenes.

Ted Ackery, Lucy Melrose, Rosalyn Harper, Louis Handley and Olivia Martin. Pic Andrew Morris Photography

Greta Abbey’s choreography adds depth to the piece, notably as the centuries morph into each other. Rebecca Mahar’s intimacy direction allows for a daring level of verisimilitude and most lascivious dancing routines involving Norgaard and Handley.

Emilie Noel’s set design is effective and simple, girting the stage with lengths of raw cloth, hung from the gallery, and a gauzed room upstage for secluded intimacy in 1726. By contrast Nhi Tran and Carmen Harkness’s costume design suggests the gaudy opulence of the dresses, nicely un-tailored for the mollies.

precision

While this is a play with songs, rather than a musical, the songs themselves are integral to the whole piece, MD Falk Meier leads the small band with precision, the whole company is well-drilled in their delivery, the venue’s upper gallery is well used and sound designer Martha Barrow keeps it clear.

All told, while it runs a bit long, the time passes quickly. Every member of the company should be proud of a satisfying production which delivers in nearly every area it should – and has a thoroughly vulgar and splendid time doing so.

Running time: Two hours and 50 minutes
Bedlam Theatre, 11B Bristo Place, EH1 1EZ.
Wed 13 – Sat 16 March 2024.
Evenings: 7.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

The cast of Mother Clap’s Molly House. Pic: Andrew Morris

ENDS

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