“How do you follow a blockbuster?” is the question that haunts many best-selling authors including, in this case, Daniel Defoe.
Nick Perry’s ‘unfaithful’ adaptation of Moll Flanders is less a staging of Defoe’s book, and more a dramatisation of its creation.
Flush with the success of Robinson Crusoe, the author is in desperate search of new material. Inspiration comes from Elizabeth Atkins (Eva-Jane Willis), a woman notorious for her multiple marriages and accusations of bigamy, incest, infant ‘disposal’ and prostitution.
Like many male authors throughout history, Defoe is somewhat unenthusiastic about remunerating his female muse, despite happily using her story to make money for himself. Bill Champion plays the author as a footie pundit everyman whose droll asides punctuate the bawdy narrative.
This becomes overly sanctimonious, a snide commentary questioning his largely likeable heroine’s life choices (including the ones made in desperation).
These deadpan interjections jar with Ryan McBryde’s otherwise energetic and comedic production, buoyed up by foot-tapping pop and blues songs performed live.
But whilst the tone falters at times, Gabriella Slade’s design is a triumph, fusing murky Victorian London with a Wild West saloon. Crowded with detail (a hidden bar in a barrel, for example), it’s beautifully lit by David W Kidd, especially during a wedding scene.
Perry’s play is peppered with entertainingly anachronistic modern phrases and production as a whole is good fun, but it misses a trick – it gives us too much Dan and not enough Moll.