Review: Mother Clap’s Molly House (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 11 – Mar 7, 2015
Playwright: 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
Photographs © Bob Seary

Theatre review
Mark Ravenhill’s writing is wild and exuberant. He uses theatre to express parts of life that are passionate, fun, taboo and brutal. In Mother Clap’s Molly House, Ravenhill places gay life under scrutiny, examining its relationship with capitalism, and the implications of an increasingly liberated community that loses its way in the struggle for freedom and acceptance. The play’s in-depth look at the subculture may not be accessible to general audiences, but it is a necessary and unflinching reflection at a significant segment of modern societies. Louise Fletcher’s direction addresses the political aspects of the play, as well as the deeply carnal flavour of its live experience. The production begins in an abundance of confused frivolity, but takes shape when its more serious themes set in and when the cast becomes more vibrant in its endeavour.

Mother Clap is played by Deborah Jones, who takes her character through drastic transformations over the course of two-and-a-half hours. As the narrow-minded version of Clap in early scenes, Jones is less convincing, but upon emancipation in the production’s second half, Jones is a spirited and confident performer, who delivers an interesting allegorical embodiment of queer empowerment. Steve Corner’s portrayal of Princess Serafina is complex and delightfully intriguing. His thoughtful approach is balanced nicely with an enthusiasm for broad comedy, although the actor can benefit from slightly less restraint. Chantel Leseberg brings a professional polish to the show, impressive in two dynamic and diverse roles, Amy and Tina. Her understanding of her parts is thorough, and her execution is consistently creative and exciting. The cast brings a warmth to the stage, and there is a charming intimacy that many of them share, but performances in general can be sharper and tighter for a greater sense of urgency, and while comic timing is not poor, there is room for improvement.

The term “molly” referred in the past, to male homosexuals and transvestites. Today, the word connotes recreational drug use. Ravenhill’s script is concerned with the evolution of gay identities, and the way societal permissiveness and the profit motive have encouraged a false sense of freedom, where men are made to believe that the pleasure principle equates to liberation and happiness. The show does not pass harsh judgement on “misguided” individuals, but it is critical of how gay communities can sometimes view themselves. To elucidate his point, Ravenhill makes a dichotomous relationship out of money and love. Of course, there is no need to think of them as essentially oppositional concepts, and we can expect to have both in our lives, but finding the right balance in moderation, as always, is key.