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Cross-dressing feminist at centre of historic city comedy
When you think about the essence of a feminist, the defiance, self-believe and wit of women like Germaine Greer or Caitlin Moran may come to mind.
But while feminism may be at the heart of this updated production of Jacobean comedy The Roaring Girl, it sadly lacks that fierceness and passion so necessary in its carefree main character, Moll Cutpurse.
A modern moment in The Roaring Girl by the RSC
Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker's The Roaring Girl dates back to 1611 and follows our heroine Moll, a cross-dressing woman who refuses to live within the constraints that society tries to put on her.
The character is based on real-life wild woman Mary Frith - a feminist well ahead of her time who back in the 17th Century proudly swaggered around taverns and tobacco shops, got drunk and wore men's clothes.
However in this production, Moll is portrayed by Lisa Dillon as a smiling, charming, wispy figure, and although she has a bit of swagger, she lacks the underlying anger and edginess that a woman of her notoriety and defiance would surely have.
The Roaring Girl is a Jacobean farce
There are the usual elements of Jacobean farce in this city comedy as Moll helps young lovestruck Sebastian con his father into letting him marry the woman he loves, while his good-for-nothing friends, The Gallants, get into a series of disceptions with the local shopkeepers.
But this new production by the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) is a disjointed affair that raises far fewer laughs than it should.
First of all, the story has been transposed into a Victorian setting, yet Moll inexplicably appears at times with an electric guitar, performs a rap with a mic and joins the rest of the cast for a breakdancing finale before Beyonce's Who Rule The World (Girls) plays over the tannoy.
The various sub-plots of the Gallants, albeit far funnier than Moll's exploits, are also too separate from the main storyline. With nothing gelling them together, it is like watching two different plays at the same time.
Then there is the problem that the production lacks the energy and self-assurance needed to make a farce like this work - something successfully achieved in last season's A Mad World My Masters.
The Roaring Girl
There are some moments of humour during the three hour performance, particularly among the minor shopkeeper characters. Unfaithful Mistress Gallipot and her doting husband (Lizzie Hopley and Timothy Speyer) lift the production immensely whenever they are on stage and interact wonderfully with the audience. Mistress and Mr Openwork (Harvey Virdi and Tony Jayawardena) are also very entertaining.
The play is part of a season of productions featuring strong female roles
The Roaring Girl is the first in a series of plays featuring strong female roles by the RSC, but rather than a roar, this has kicked off the season with a whimper.
The Roaring Girl
Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon
April 9 - September 30, 2014
Tickets cost from £5 and are available from The RSC website.