Moll Flanders - The Musical

Book Claire Luckham, Lyrics Paul Leigh, Music Geroge Miles, after Daniel Defoe

Director: Alison de Ledesma assisted by Lesley Willis
Musical Director: John Davies

Perhaps the Fringe's most ambitious production ever, and certainly one of its greatest successes, we did it with 10 actors, only some of whom had sung on stage before. Yet all these performers had their own musical line to sing, sometimes in complex ensemble numbers. John Davies, who has sadly since moved away from Alton, had long been keen to get this neglected work on stage, and seized on his wife Tessa's link with the Fringe to persuade them to tackle it. Staging it required a stagecoach, a boat with mast which could be erected on stage and its sail hoisted, and a noose to drop from above at the right moment. All of this was acheived with characteristic Fringe simplicity and economy.

Pictures by Peter Dilloway

John Davies' musical notes from the programme

Moll Flanders, the Musical, in Alton “A Celebration of Life”

The Alton Fringe Theatre has done it again. What a cracker of a show! Lively, humorous, fast-moving, challenging, touching, spectacular, sometimes sad and often joyous. “Moll Flanders”, based on the novel by Daniel Defoe, must be one of the first really groundbreaking works on the role of women in the world and the way they have been treated. It is a shame on the face of humanity that so much of the abuse and inequality remains. There is one law for the rich and another for the poor, one law for men and another for women.

“Who owns this thing?” asks the Mayor of Colchester, “What’s this? A stray? A ragamuffin, rascal, a thing revolting and scabrous.” It’s only Moll at the age of five. And that’s just the start of it. Born in Newgate Prison, Defoe writes, Moll “during a life of continu’d Variety for Threescore Years, beside her childhood, was Twelve Years a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv’d Honest, and died a Penitent.” Moll’s is an amazing story. She suffers countless abuses, degradations, is seduced and deceived at every turn. And all she wanted was to live and be loved.

“Moll Flanders”, The Musical, manages to tell the story with clarity and warm affection. The Alton Fringe rises to the occasion to do justice to both text and music. The programme lists forty-four parts and the cast of ten embraces them all. We see a wonderful example of ensemble playing as the actors move from scene to scene and from character to character effortlessly.

It would be difficult to single out any one performer in a team that was rich with talent. Moll, herself, of course, does invite special commendation. Barbara Rayner beautifully manages to portray Moll through her life; as a child, as a very attractive young woman, and again as she ages into her final traumatic years. Through all the harsh times she never loses either her faith or her confidence in her own gifts. “Moll Flanders” is an affirmation of life. A declaration that the human spirit will not be overcome, no matter what is thrown at it.

Mention must be made of the Directors, Alison de Ledesma and Lesley Willis. They worked magic with their outstanding cast and very imaginative use of the space and two poles. With swift change of props and clothes and scarcely a pause in the action we are swept from one crisis to another, across land and sea, until Moll finds herself back in Newgate… terrified, as her mother had been years before, that she is to hang. And what can one say of the music. It was superb and the Musical Director, John Davies, masterfully guided the whole splendid achievement.

Rarely can an amateur group offer such a remarkably professional performance. The diction was superb in both song and recitative so that the very complicated story was easy to follow. The singing too was powerful and conveyed the triumphs and the tragedies of the story very vividly.

All combined to make this one of the Fringe’s most memorable productions. Long may Alton Fringe Theatre continue to provide us with class works performed with style. It was a wonderful evening of theatre in its many forms. The whole company has every reason to be proud of their achievement. It was brilliantly conceived and skilfully carried through.

One was left at the end with an inner conviction that life is good and that the effort to live it well, however often thwarted, is not wasted.

  • Michael McGreevy, 12 July 2009