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THEATRE: 23 FEBRUARY 2015

By TONI CARROLL

Mother Clap’s Molly House, by Mark Ravenhill | Directed by Louise Fischer

New Theatre & Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras 2015 | New Theatre, Newtown, Sydney | Until 7 March

“Please note: this production contains strong language, adult themes, sex scenes, drug use and nudity.”

Yes. Yes it does.

This Mardi Gras 2015 production also contains rousing ensemble musical numbers, wonderfully exuberant characterisations, moments of hilarity and at its heart a love story based on the enlightenment of one woman: Mother Clap.

My 21-year-old daughter accompanied me to see Mother Clap’s Molly House and, although we are both involved with the queer community, neither of us knew that a ‘molly house’ was an 18th-century term for a brothel where the ‘girls’ are boys in drag.

The first act introduces us to Mrs Tull (Deborah Jones), a newly widowed Londoner in 1726 who is struggling to make ends meet with her dead husband’s frock-hire business. Her main customer is a nearby brothel. But when Princess Seraphina/William (Steve Corner) enters her shop to find work, Mrs Tull is shocked and appalled. She seems to think it’s fine to hire to prostitutes, but not to mollies.

But she soon finds she has a head for business (as all good god-fearing people do, according to one song) and, through her apprentice’s new-found proclivities, she discovers that mollies are good business.

The more she gets to know the ‘girls’, the more she accepts that people are just people, and love has no barriers. She becomes affectionately known as ‘Mother Clap’, and her business expands to provide a safe space for the unbridled fun and games of her special clientele.

The second act introduces a new cast of characters, played by the same actors, and is set in a modern London flat during a sex party. Where the costumes (Famke Visser) of the first act were 18th-century corsets and greatcoats, those of the second act are … virtually non-existent. In this act, the action moves between the two periods to highlight that tangled webs of sex, morals, relationships, gender characterisation and commodification of sex are timeless.

The one constant feature of both periods is the character of Eros (Bradley Bulger), an impish figure gorgeously clad in red feather wings and a low-cut corset in the past, and black bum-hugging boy-briefs in the present. He’s a Puck-like figure that is the driving force behind the shenanigans onstage, but not as overtly manipulative as Shakespeare’s iconic fairy.

The cast was impressively large for an independent production, with an equitable mix of experienced and new performers, although this didn’t necessarily correspond to the variable quality of performances.

Of consistent quality, however, was the musical talent. When this ensemble belted out a tune it set me a-tingle. As well as the cast, director Louise Fischer and pianist Lord Lovaduck deserve a nod. It takes skill to turn lyrics such as “Shit on those who call it sodomy / We call it fabulous!” into something that sounds mainstream.

This show has it all – some big songs, jokes and larger-than-life characters you’ll fall in love with … so much so that the foul language, oh-so-realistic simulated sex, drugs and swathes of man flesh will all seem a part of the charm.