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Is there any place so lewd as Lady London?

“Is there any place so lewd as Lady London?”

It is the 400th anniversary this year of one of the first great feminist plays: The Roaring Girl by Middleton and Dekker, which is being presented in a sumptuous new production for the first time in New Zealand.

Roaring girls were a historical reality among the quacks, pimps and drifters who populated early 1600s London. These were girls who dressed in a doublet and men’s breeches, cut their hair, wore swords and daggers, fought in the streets and generally scandalised society for living and behaving in a “noisy riotous manner”. They are well documented in the files from the period – and were a headache to King Henry VIII, who regularly asked the Bishop of London to “inveigh against the insolence of our women”.

The most notorious of these roaring girls was one Mary Frith, who was born in 1584 and whose adventures make their way into several plays of the period. Known as Moll Cutpurse, she worked variously as a brothel owner and barmaid, getting regularly arrested for indecency and narrowly escaping the gallows: yet Middleton and Dekker treat her hugely sympathetically, in a rip-rollicking story that turns conventions on their heads. Here, she is the foil within a love story. Sebastian wants to marry a girl of whom his mother doesn’t approve, so pretends to be in love with Moll instead: and she emerges as kind of Robin Hood figure, the scourge of scoundrels and the only moral voice in a sea of hypocrisy and vice.

Director Rachel Henry comments: “Moll is such an inspiring character to work with – a feminist centuries before the word feminist was invented. It’s surprising how relevant the other characters are as well. If Middleton was holding a mirror to the vice in middle-class society then he could be holding that mirror today – and get the same reflection.”

This production has been adapted for the modern stage by Dean Parker (Midnight in Moscow, Baghdad Baby!, The Hollow Men) for the students of the second year acting class at Toi Whakaari:NZ Drama School. The basement theatre has been turned into a Jacobean tavern, complete with wenches serving appropriate victuals: and with stunning costume and set design and a cast and crew of roaring lads and lasses, this is a robust and sexy comedy that is not to be missed.

by Thomas Dekker & Thomas Middleton, adapted by D Parker, directed by Rachel Henry
Thu 25 – Wed 31 August 2011, 7pm, Te Whaea: National Dance & Drama Centre, 11 Hutchison Rd, Newtown, Wellington. Tickets: $20/$15 Bookings online at


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