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Fland of hope and glory

PUBLISHED: 18:05 28 August 2008 | UPDATED: 17:28 16 August 2010

PHOTO:  MARILYN KINGWILL                                    MOLL FLANDERS AT SOUTHWARK PLAYHOUSE               12/8/08

PHOTO: MARILYN KINGWILL MOLL FLANDERS AT SOUTHWARK PLAYHOUSE 12/8/08

SOUTHWARK Playhouse have moved under the arches at London Bridge. Wooden wagon wheels, oak barrels and coiled ropes set the scene in

SOUTHWARK Playhouse have moved under the arches at London Bridge.

Wooden wagon wheels, oak barrels and coiled ropes set the scene in a perfect brick square space with a railway arched ceiling.

Air conditioning and a tubular steel lighting gallery provide an enviable performance area - only a hidden lighting control box and a railway drivers strike are needed to complete a theatrical gem.

Seating is flexible and functional (with a two-hour bum comfort limit).

Into this space tumble a troupe of 18th century characters in Moll Flanders. Back combed hair and white faces combine with authentic costumes to lure us into the smelly, teeming, and dangerous streets of Daniel Defoe's London.

Elizabeth King is the name of a foundling child, given over to the maternal care of a Mrs White 'Nurse to unfortunate children' and lucky she is that this charitable woman is on hand, as the alternatives are unthinkable. Liz thrives in this unusual family, but as she approaches puberty, Mrs White succumbs to one of the many diseases rampant at the time, and she is thrown out on the streets.

Luckily for her, before worse befalls, she is taken up as a maid by a rich family and finds security until the two sons of the family spot the sexual potential of this defenceless girl and pursue her relentlessly.

The older brother promises her marriage and seduces her, but as his father refuses to die, he is in no position to marry a slut and lose his inheritance. His solution to this awkward situation is to marry her off to his younger brother, so keeping her within the family and available to him. Liz is heartbroken, and reluctantly consents to a loveless marriage.

Elegant dancing and ensemble movement are used to weave the storytelling into a cohesive narrative, but at one hour 20 minutes, the first act is a bit too long for comfort.

The second half recounts the many trials and tribulations of a woman whose life develops into a soap opera.

Only the constant reminder that fact is stranger than fiction keeps disbelief suspended while we journey with her from London to 'a gentleman' up north, who turns out to be a destitute adventurer, and she returns from this disaster to more adventures in town.

Her final career as a common thief takes us to the lower depths of society, where we discover that people are the same everywhere - it's just that money gives them a more palatable gloss. This is a truly ensemble piece from Camarilla Theatre Group, with three actors portraying the lead character; a woman who rises from the stews of Aldgate to become Moll Flanders, celebrity queen of the underworld. It will hold you enthralled and remind you, yet again, that nothing much changes in London, only the fact that the images are displayed on TV.

Instead of at your local boozer.

* Moll Flanders is at the Southwark Playhouse, Shipwright yard SE1 2TF until August 30. Tickets are from £7 to £20, call the box office on

0844 847 1656.

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