A Chaste Maid in Cheapside is a city comedy by Thomas Middleton, originally written in around 1613. Mercurius Theatre’s production at the Rose Theatre on Bankside transports the action to 1950s Soho with humorous effect.
The story follows young lovers Moll and Touchwood Junior, who face hostility from Moll’s parents due to their social ambition and desire for her to marry Sir Walter Whorehound. Sir Walter, however, is something of a cad, living with and fathering children on another man’s wife (even if the husband is completely happy with the situation). Meanwhile, Touchwood’s elder brother has been forced to separate from his wife as the pair can’t afford any more children, while another couple, Sir Oliver and Lady Kix, are childless and unhappy. Despite the prevalence of subplots (some of which I assume were cut owing to the play’s short running time), the play was not at all confusing and it was easy to follow the different strands.
The performances were very strong: I particularly liked Andrew Seddon as the arrogant rake Sir Walter, while Beth Eyre was an appealingly headstrong Moll and Harry Russell likeable as her suitor. The pacing was excellent and evoked the busy atmosphere of London. I thought the staging was excellent, particularly the use of the back of the old Rose playhouse to represent the sewers through which Moll tries to escape. The costumes were era-appropriate while also evoking the seventeenth century, and the touches of Fifties music helped to evoke the nostalgic age of teen romance.
While I would like to see a full-length production of Middleton’s play, this version is a worthy substitute and I would highly recommend trying to catch it.