Review: The Roaring Girl – ‘a ground-breaking proto-feminist piece of theatre’

With cross-dressing, feminist themes and a feisty soundtrack, The Roaring Girl proves a fifth week delight.

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Two girls sit in front of a clothes rail, with white ruffles round their necks, one of them looking at the other
Photographer: Oliver Garrett

Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker’s 1611 play The Roaring Girl could certainly be described as a ground-breaking proto-feminist piece of theatre, following the story of a cross-dressing thief who plays with gender roles, condemns misogynistic predators and vows never to marry. With a bold, funny and thoroughly spirited performance, Martha Harlan and Laura Henderson Child’s production at the Pilch excellently conveyed the proto-feminist undercurrent that lingers beneath the surface of the script.

It suffices to say that Harlan and Henderson Child’s direction was simply brilliant. The piece was highly dynamic, the pace never slowed, nor did the show lose momentum. The co-directors did a fantastic job at bringing Middleton and Dekker’s script to life; each moment on stage is injected with a great deal of energy and movement. While this felt a little dizzying, it nevertheless highlighted the show’s raucous, fun-filled spirit. This was most evident in the fight scenes – the directors clearly paid attention to detail by having the combat scenes choreographed, and this was easily one of the best directorial decisions. With onstage fighting that was gripping, tense, but nonetheless hugely entertaining, the play’s fight director, Ariel Levine, is deserving of a great deal of praise. Additionally, the set design was striking: the ceiling was adorned with white sheets and the costume rail was constantly present, with the cast changing costumes on stage. This recurring motif of fabric and clothing was a very nice touch, I thought, given that the concept of disguise and “dressing up” features so prominently in the play.

The incredibly strong cast is also deserving of credit. The “Roaring Girl” herself, Moll Cutpurse, was played fantastically by Hannah Taylor, radiating charisma and swagger as she absolutely dominated the stage. Even as she played such a larger-than-life character, Taylor’s attention to detail was superb, as the occasional wink or kiss of the teeth sent the audience into uproarious laughter. She was accompanied by an equally talented supporting cast – Lola Beal and Katie Friedli Walton gave standout performances as an unhappy noblewoman and her milquetoast husband, as did Millie Tupper and Jamie Lucas as a pair of blundering pickpockets. Every cast member aside from Taylor took on at least two roles, a highly impressive feat as they all demonstrated immense versatility. I also found the gender blind casting to be an interesting touch, given that the whole play seemed to revolve around the notion of cross-dressing, and it was pulled off superbly by the actors.

The soundtrack that accompanied the play, made up of such artists as Janelle Monáe and Madonna, truly captured the spirit of the show – feisty, bold and playful. The scene changes were accompanied by brief snippets of the soundtrack as the cast changed costumes and danced around on stage. While this initially added to the sheer exuberance of the piece, the use of music eventually felt a little repetitive for me. Nevertheless, the transitions were executed very well, allowing for a seamless jump between each scene.

The Roaring Girl is a dynamic, fearless comedy which celebrates feisty women like Moll. Harlan and Henderson Child did a fantastic job bringing Middleton and Dekker’s script to a modern stage, supported by a hugely talented and versatile cast.

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