Moll Flanders, Mercury Theatre
Review by Jac Bradley
The author Daniel Defoe had a past that was contentious even to his biographers, who could not even settle on his birthday. So this ‘unfaithful adaptation’ by Nick Perry seems totally appropriate.
The way Perry weaves the story, with Defoe front and centre, and the focus on the creation of Moll, is inspired.
Defoe meets the spirited Elizabeth Atkins (who Moll is allegedly based on) at Newgate prison; she then unfolds her life’s adventures to him and his writer’s pen. There is no fourth wall in this production, the actors interacting with the audience and their own flashbacks at will. It’s a bawdy, saucy romp through the streets of London, the high seas and the plains of the newly established Americas
The luminous Eva-Jane Willis, breathes life into the heroine, giving her spice and sensitivity in equal measure. Moll is a character who could easily become unlikable by her actions, but through Perry’s writing and Willis’ portrayal, she is a woman whose spirit in undimmed despite her circumstances. Bill Champion’s ‘Defoe’ acts as a bridge between the audience and the stage, making sure that this production’s tongue stays firmly in its cheek. The ensemble is outstanding, with a cast of just nine, all (except Defoe and Atkins/Moll) actor-musicians, double up and present a superb array of big, bold characters.
Music is such an integral part of the story-telling here. Leaning towards a musical but not entirely committing itself to the genre; singing, modern songs, and instruments add another layer to the dynamic presentation.
From the musical pre-show, you know you are in for an enjoyable evening and one look at the set is enough insight into the spectacle that is about to unfold. With bare wooden structures and a set packed with height, depth and interest Gabriella Slade, has created a performers playground with the ability to transform into every possible setting convincingly, completely taking you along with the story of the characters. David W Kidd’s lighting and Tom Marshall’s sound design complements Slade’s work to perfection.
There is so much happening before your eyes, and yet none of it is unnecessary. Director Ryan McBride has done a sensational job of pulling together such a stylish and dynamic production that is also streamlined and packed full of humour and emotional connection.
I was saddened to hear this production was to come down in less than two short weeks. It deserves a tour, an extension or a transfer, anything to keep this beautiful creation going and to be seen by as many as possible.
Moll Flanders is on at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 13 October https://www.mercurytheatre.co.uk/event/moll-flanders/