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Review: Moll Flanders, by Nick Perry, unfaithfully adapted from Daniel Defoe, Colchester Mercury, until October 13

PUBLISHED: 14:12 04 October 2018

Bill Champion as Daniel Defoe and Eva-Jane Willis as Elizabeth Atkins the inspiration for Defoe's bawdy heroine Moll Flanders at the Colchester Mercury. Photo: Scott Rylander

Bill Champion as Daniel Defoe and Eva-Jane Willis as Elizabeth Atkins the inspiration for Defoe's bawdy heroine Moll Flanders at the Colchester Mercury. Photo: Scott Rylander

Copyright © Scott Rylander 2018

The term ‘bawdy romp’ is synonymous (or should that be sin-nonymous) with Daniel Defoe’s Colchester-born courtesan Moll Flanders. Writer Nick Perry and director Ryan McBryde have teamed up to bring Flanders – or rather her real-life inspration Elizabeth Atkins – back home for the Colchester Mercury’s wickedly inventive, musical re-telling of this classic slice of 18th century literature.

A post-modern take on Daniel Defoe's bawdy tale Moll Flanders at the Colchester Mercury. Photo: Scott RylanderA post-modern take on Daniel Defoe's bawdy tale Moll Flanders at the Colchester Mercury. Photo: Scott Rylander

It’s very much a post-modern take on the story, with the characters commenting on the action, witnessing flashbacks and weaving songs, both traditional and contemporary numbers, around the events on stage.

It’s a lively production which exists in a magnificent world created by set designer Gabriella Slade. Ryan McBryde keeps things flying along with a directing style that lies somewhere between farce, pantomime and cabaret. It’s a theatrical mash-up that works very nicely and is echoed by the contemporary language utilised by Perry’s genre-smashing dialogue. It’s not often you hear the phrases: “My bad” or “Talk to the hand” in a Restoration comedy – nor songs like Fever or Love For Sale.

What they have produced is a sparkling comic commentary on the writing of Moll Flanders rather than a faithful dramatisation of the novel. Bill Champion and Eva-Jane Willis display wonderful chemistry as Defoe and Elizabeth Atkins and it is their vivacious performances which propels the show along.

Annie Wensak as Mother and Eva-Jane Willis as Elizabeth Atkins the inspiration for Defoe's bawdy heroine Moll Flanders at the Colchester Mercury. Photo: Scott RylanderAnnie Wensak as Mother and Eva-Jane Willis as Elizabeth Atkins the inspiration for Defoe's bawdy heroine Moll Flanders at the Colchester Mercury. Photo: Scott Rylander

They are supported by a talented cast of actor-musicians who swap hats, clothes, accents with bewildering speed as they become the various larger-than-life individuals who enter Daniel and Elizabeth’s extraordinary story.

Telling the story in flashback and having the author and his muse comment on the fictional story gives the production a lot of opportunity to play with the conventions of theatre and classic literature and to make observations about our collective history.

Although, this version of Moll Flanders is told with its tongue planted firmly in its cheek, it does have something serious and quite touching to say about the role of women in the 18th century, how cruel life could be for those at the bottom end of society and how easy it was to find yourself on the end of a hangman’s noose.

A post-modern take on Daniel Defoe's bawdy tale Moll Flanders at the Colchester Mercury. Photo: Scott RylanderA post-modern take on Daniel Defoe's bawdy tale Moll Flanders at the Colchester Mercury. Photo: Scott Rylander

The show’s up-tempo feel is established even before the play begins as the cast greet the audience with a series of jigs and folk songs creating a warm, inclusive atmosphere which leads straight into the play.

Moll Flanders was a good time girl and this 21st century re-invention of her story is dazzling. Huge congratulations to a highly talented ensemble cast for this exciting musical make-over.

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