Want a welcome break from the Trump turmoil? The Roaring Girl from St Hilda’s College Drama Society not only provides comedic light relief but also some fun proto-feminism to cheer you up.
Dekker and Middleton’s city comedy has very rarely seen the light of day in Oxford drama. Co-director Alex Barasch calls it a “forgotten gem.” With its heroine Moll Cutpurse striding the stage wearing men’s trousers and duelling her misogynist opponents with gusto, this production sounds like it’s come just at the right time to give all us students some feminist fun.
The play includes a large cast, entirely made-up of St Hilda’s students, including eleven newbies who’ve never done Oxford drama before. Directors, producers, this is your chance to spot your next star! As a result of this inclusiveness, the cast have had just three weeks to rehearse and learn the lengthy Renaissance script. A mammoth task, one might think, but Freya Cunningham as Moll and Felicity Miles as her lecherous nemesis Laxton seemed to have no trouble when I watched a sneak preview of the show. Cunningham in particular performed a sizeable speech with aplomb, her fury at Laxton varied in pitch but not intensity. She lends real power to the role, particularly in this more serious scene.
Miles is also impressive as Moll’s opponent Laxton. Used to playing the debutante or the ingénue, she told me in a weird way it’s empowering to play the misogynist: “It’s almost a release to get to make comic relief out of the creepy guys in the club.” Despite a minor mishap with the props during the preview (nothing a little sellotape won’t fix!), the duelling looks like it’ll be slick and entertaining.
Barasch and his co-director Jhanie Fender have transitioned their Roaring Girl to the roaring twenties. Partly set amongst London’s shopkeepers, the women are unwilling to go back to a simply domestic role after their brief experience of independence during the First World War. Gender is clearly a big theme in this production. The characters may be larger-than-life and comedic, but the ideas behind them are thought-provoking.
However, the directors are keen to emphasise that above all, this is a comedy. In fact, Barasch sees the comedy as holding up better than that of Shakespeare—and the drama includes both shopkeepers and Lords, taking in more of the ‘commoners’ than in Twelfth Night, or Much Ado, for example.
Taking place in the Jacqueline du Pre Music Building, the inevitable omnipresent piano is being used to effect in a musical interlude during a scene at Sir Alexander’s house, whilst the shopkeepers will be represented by a trio of colourful shopfronts.
All in all, this promises to be a fun and feisty production, whether you’re in the mood to take down the patriarchy or just escape the cold November weather and fifth week blues for a warm and diverting show. Cunningham says since taking on the role she’s begun asking herself, “What Would Moll Do?” Having seen some of Moll’s fierce independence (and duelling skills!) first hand, I think this wouldn’t be a bad motto for all of us at the moment. If you want to see for yourself what Moll would do, head down to Hilda’s this weekend for seduction, sword fighting, and smashing societal expectations.