Punching Jane

Reviewer's Rating

On the ground floor of The Stables, an 18th century brothel, after-hours take place bare knuckle fights between the resident prostitutes- the better to get the johns’ juices flowing and their wallets opening. Despite the seedy surroundings, it’s a better alternative for the girls than the street, Bedlam or the Rookeries, a place with punters who have more violent predilections. The pecking order of the girls is carefully constructed under the house’s Madam, Elisabeth and it is a balancing act of a life where violence is the norm. The death of the owner and the arrival of Jane a feisty and hardened prostitute/fighter tip the balance and set in motion a series of events that will change their lives irrevocably.

Jane ignores the rules and fights properly laying out top girl Mary and igniting the competition between them. She wants to establish her territory, whereas Mary fears losing her privileged position as Elizabeth’s favourite, and she is wary and jealous of Jane. Meanwhile, Elizabeth would like to finally retire quietly, and simple Molly is terrified of going back to Bedlam. Thomas the new owner is a hypocrite considering himself a gentleman and the girls animals to be taken advantage of, and does not take well to their brazenness and to the evident attraction between Molly and his cousin and sidekick Harry.

Ed Young and Jessica Farley stage a decent play with a good cast and a riveting finale, but they need to decide what their aim is, what is the concept behind it all. They have had a good idea that they need to develop a bit more. We learn the histories behind some of the characters and yet, other more significant ones remain a mystery. The actual relationship and history between Mary and Thomas is only hinted at, despite the fact that it is a significant factor for the rising tension. Jane, after setting thing in motion disappears in the background of the story. Issues of gender violence, class, equality and social hypocrisy are only perfunctorily implied, when they could give a bit more substance to the characters and the play.