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Friday, 7 September, 2001, 15:08 GMT 16:08 UK
Shocking Mother Clap fails to rouse
Deborah Findlay (Mrs Tull) and Danielle Tilley (Amy), photograph by Mark Douet
The production is engineered to court controversy
By the BBC's Neil Smith

Mark Ravenhill made his name with the contentious Shopping and F**king, so anyone approaching his "new play with songs" at London's Royal National Theatre should do so with caution.

Take the title, for instance. "Mother Clap" is the nickname given to Mrs Tull, a widow in 18th Century London who stops renting dresses to prostitutes so she can open a refuge for homosexuals, or "mollys".

But that is only the half of it. After the interval, the action jumps forward to present day London to depict a gay orgy featuring bondage and graphic sex.

Throw in more profanity than a Bernard Manning video and you have a production that is engineered to court controversy.

Deborah Findlay plays Mrs Tull (photograph by Mark Douet)
Deborah Findlay makes a strong impression

As musical drama, though, Mother Clap is distinctly amateurish and, despite all the lurid detail, rather dull.

For one thing, there is no story to speak of - just a loosely connected stream of vignettes that self-consciously nod to Brecht's Mother Courage.

Then there are the songs, modelled after the airs in The Beggar's Opera but lacking their tunefulness and variety.

Deborah Findlay makes a strong impression as Mrs Tull, who makes up for the child she can never have by becoming surrogate mother to the promiscuous flotsam who haunt the capital's streets at night looking for rough trade.

Precocious

And former EastEnder actor Paul J Medford is a hoot as a scantily-clad Eros who flies off his pedestal to lead young apprentice Martin (Paul Ready) into temptation.

Ravenhill cannily contrasts the flowering of sexual capitalism in the 18th Century with the modern power of the so-called "Pink Pound".

But while he is undoubtedly a precocious talent, his latest opus comes across as banal and vulgar on a stage more suited to My Fair Lady than such juvenile shock tactics.

The director is Nicholas Hytner, who has abandoned the lucrative world of movie-making in a transparent bid to follow Trevor Nunn as the National's artistic director.

If this is his audition piece, he needn't bother turning up for the interview.

Mother Clap's Molly House is at the National Theatre, London, until 24 November

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