In a sly and underappreciated tradition, many RSC cross dressing girls look like K.D. Lang. In that distinguished line up, Lisa Dillon’s Moll Cutpurse has a special place. For one, she is a 17th century girl who cross dresses unapologetically. None of this fleeing through the forest in disguise for her. Secondly she plays the double bass. And sings. And rises to the stage surrounded by a cloud of smoke. If you want the K.D. Lang crown, this is how to get it.
The Roaring Girl, written by Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker in 1611, is the dramatised story of Mary Frith, nickname Moll Cutpurse, a famous virago in London at the time, who lived as a pickpocket and a pimp, dressed in men’s clothing, had a house full of mirrors on Fleet Street and kept parrots, bred mastiffs and a dancing horse. In other words, she was like the best of the Soho crowd before there was a Soho and the best of feminists before there were any. The rest of the story is complicated: Sebastian needs Moll’s help to get together with Mary, they avoid his father’s trickery with cunningness, Moll helps Jack – another wild spirit – to slip the taming hand of the law, Mistress Gallipot – a shopkeeper’s wife with the covert skills of a modern spy – has a clandestine love affair with Laxton and so on. In other words, a lot happens in a jumble of a metropolitan city of aristocrats, merchants and petty thieves.
At the centre of it all, Lisa Dillon’s Moll is a born troublemaker come orator, with one eye looking for trouble while simultaneously talking her way out of it. Continue reading