An evening of gay abandon which looks set to run

Review by Paul Nelson

THERE are no innuendos, no nudging and winking, no hinting word or gesture. Here it is in all its lusty lewdness and lascivious language, a celebration of homosexual practices with no repressions.

Mother Clap's Molly House
at The Aldwych, by Mark Ravenhill, a play with music, is reminiscent of a pantomime in its use of exuberance as it explains the dubious delights of buggery.

If anything the play finally purports to prove that the pursuit of pleasure is its own reward and leaves an impression of sadness that this hedonistic way of life is ultimately unsatisfactory.

The story deals with Mrs Tull, who runs a dress shop. On the death of her husband, she is converted to the idea that running a brothel, a male one at that, on the grounds that it is probably going to make her life more comfortable as she now has no support.

Martin, an apprentice who goes 'wandering' brings to light the existence of a lane in Moorfields where men pick up other men and into the shop comes Thomas Orme, an apprentice to workingmen, who has seen him on his dark night wanderings. Ultimately this crowd become clients and customers at what eventually is Mother Clap's Molly House, the male brothel.

Their shenanigans and lack of moral guilt make up the bulk of the first act of the play and it ends with a celebration that money and sex or profit and pleasure can be reconciled, and with this joyous discovery, Eros god of love is showered with rose petals as in the film American Beauty.

Act Two flits between modern and historic aspects of the practices. The modern equivalent is a private sex party which is being taped on video camera, and with this jumping about from then and now, the play becomes confused. In the past the men have all assumed female names, Orme becomes Kitty, and Martin becomes Susan. Susan professes true love for Kitty but here the affair is doomed. Kitty loves the gay lifestyle of swapping partners and orgies; Susan wants him to stay at home. The same theme links the past with the present and the play ends on the high note of being in favour of animal gratification, as opposed to monogamy, and the continuing of the molly house. This is wildly hailed by the cast.


Approve or disapprove, there is a play here and although it could stand having about twenty minutes cutting from it and some of the longer scenes lightened by more musical interludes, it manages to amuse. Some of the gags are sure-fire. The problem is the ennui of having seen and been told the same thing repeatedly. As such, I found the second act, in spite of the fact that most of the good jokes are to be found there, dull. It is not enough to perpetuate this miasma with yet another simulated sex act and nudity. It does not improve matters.

The evening provides scope for some good performances, notably Deborah Findlay as Mrs Tull, and the two apprentices Paul Ready (Martin) and Tom McKay (Orme). The reference to their being apprentices was not lost on me. Most of the other men also give good value but it seems to me they are somewhat hampered by the eclectic nature of their roles and the play. The women too, mostly a chorus of whores, give equal value.

The direction is excellent considering the aforementioned circumstances and the staging is masterly, aided by a very clever all encompassing set which changes efficiently as required. There is also some attractive music which made me wish there was a recording for souvenir purposes.

Mother Clap's Molly House is scheduled to run for six weeks. I suspect, judging from the euphoria in the auditorium, that it will last longer.

Mother Clap's Molly House, a play by Mark Ravenhill. Directed by Nicholas Hytner. Lyrics by Mark Ravenhill with music by Matthew Scott. Set Designer Giles Cadle, Costume Designer Nicky Gillibrand with lighting by Rick Fisher. Produced by background.

With Deborah Findlay (Mrs Tull), Iain Mitchell (Stephen Tull/Edward), Paul Ready (Martin/Tom), Robert Blythe (Princess Seraphina), Maggie McCarthy (Amelia), Danielle Tilly (Amy/Tina), Debbie Chazen (Mary Cranton), Katy Secombe (Mary Bolton), Jay Simpson (Kedger/Charlie), Tom McKay (Thomas Orme/Josh), Con O'Neill (Gabriel Lawrence/Phil), Daniel Redmond (God), Neil Couperthwaite (Eros), William Osborne (Will). Other parts played by Deborah Asante, Anthony Mark Barrow, Jack Bennett, Pamela Hardman, Aidan Meech, Iain Pearson, Philip Ralph, Ali Sichilongo.