Mother Clap's Molly House

Fischer sharply addresses the political aspects of the play and also brings out the deeply carnal flavour of its live experience.
Mother Clap's Molly House
Image: www.newtheatre.org.au

This vivid, bold, lewd and naughty production rockets onto the New Theatre stage and explosively demands our attention. The New Theatre presented the Australian premiere a decade ago and this current extraordinary revival is linked in with the Mardi Gras festival and is full of outrageous characters, graphic sexuality, bawdy songs and handsome men. It is not for the easily offended and contains lots of strong language and simulated sex (among other things!)

Shifting deftly between time periods, Mark Ravenhill (Shopping and Fucking) has written an astringent and subversive satire that celebrates the diversity of human sexuality and explores our emotional need to form families whilst simultaneously slamming the way sex has become another product to buy.

The story is mostly as follows: It opens in London, 1726 and a Mrs Tull is struggling to save her frock-hire business. Discovering her apprentice, Martin, (excellently played by Andrew Grogan) and some of his hidden skirt wearing friends, she becomes aware of a bustling subculture that will enable her to realise two of her fantasies: to become a surrogate mother and to earn a lot of money. She decides on a plan to open a "molly house" – a brothel where the ‘girls’ are boys in frocks and the beer flows – and business is soon booming!

This is contrasted in Act Two, where in a trendy 21st century Bloomsbury loft, we see how a gay relationship is disintegrating amidst the drugs and toys of a sex party /orgy. In the past, the term “molly” referred to male homosexuals and transvestites. Today, the word implies recreational drug use. Ravenhill’s script examines the evolution of gay identities, and the way societal permissiveness and the profit motive have somehow encouraged a false sense of freedom from morals and principles, a world where men are led to believe that the pleasure principle leads to happiness and liberation. The play doesn’t criticize assorted “misguided” individuals, but it is critical of how gay communities can sometimes see themselves. It also looks at the position of women in society, then and now – has anything really changed?

Director Louise Fischer does a great job in sustaining the period feel and effortlessly moving the cast from that time to the present day and back with seamless fluid scene changes. She sharply addresses the political aspects of the play and also brings out the deeply carnal flavour of its live experience.

Mother Clap is tremendously played by Deborah Jones, and we follow her unexpected drastic transformation. Clap in early scenes is perhaps a bit rigid and narrow minded, but upon liberation in the production’s second half, Jones is a confident, vibrant and spirited performer, and we see an interesting allegorical embodiment of queer empowerment.

Terribly handsome Steve Corner’s superb portrayal of complex Princess Serafina is thrillingly multifaceted and nuanced in a magnificent performance. His well thought approach to his astonishing bravura performance is nicely balanced nicely with a knack for comedy .

Chantel Leseberg gives a polished performance and is most impressive in her two contrasting roles, Amy and Tina. Amy, of 1726, is a deliciously wicked and knowing ‘innocent country wench’ while Tina, of now, who nearly bleeds to death after a botched abortion, is a demanding homophobe controlled by her horrible boyfriend. Leseberg’s presentation is always exciting and innovative.

Bradley Bulger has much fun in red and black as a mischievous delightful Puck-like Eros, and the rest of the ensemble are also splendid.

Ravenhill tries to shock his audience while at the same time tenderly exploring the riddle of the monogamous who love the polygamous and vice versa in a great achievement of portraying love and despair.

'Shit on those who call this sodomy / We call it fabulous!'

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Mother Clap’s Molly House
Written by: Mark Ravenhill
Music: Matthew Scott
Director: Louise Fischer
Cast: Debra Bryan, Bradley Bulger, Stephanie Begg, Steve Corner, Andrew Grogan, Patrick Howard, Deborah Jones, Chantel Leseberg, Tess Marshall, Brendan Miles, Thomas Pidd, Garth Saville, Dave Todd

New Theatre, Newtown
11 February - 7 March

Lynne Lancaster

Tuesday 17 February, 2015

About the author

Lynne Lancaster is a Sydney based arts writer who has previously worked for Ticketek, Tickemaster and the Sydney Theatre Company. She has an MA in Theatre from UNSW, and when living in the UK completed the dance criticism course at Sadlers Wells, linked in with Chichester University.