Green-Gowned in Greenwich Park

At Greenwich lies the Scene, where many a Lass

Has been Green-gown’d upon the tender Grass

If Flamstead’s Stars would make a true Report

Our City’s Breeds much mended by the Court 

& etc.

Back in 1959, while he was still waiting to come up with Oliver! Lionel Bart wrote a musical that is very rarely performed these days. Lock Up Your Daughters! is a parody of Restoration comedy. Ludicrous plotline? Check. Over the top characters whose names give away their roles, such as the romantic Captain Constant or the lascivious Mrs Squeezum? Check. Saucy one-liners and single entendres? Check.

It also had a couple of cracking songs. I particularly remember the splendid – and limpidly insipid - Lovely Lover, the outrageously unsubtle When Does the Ravishing Begin? and the sultry Gentle Art of Seduction, which, if memory serves, bore a remarkable musical similarity to and was probably recycled later as You Got to Pick a Pocket or Two.

But Bart’s piss-take was nothing on the real thing, which, by the time I’m talking about, had already become a parody of itself.

If someone had asked me to write a pastiche of a jaunty Restoration comedy, I don’t think I could have come up with anything as stereotyped, hackneyed or downright fatuous as William Mountfort’s Greenwich Park. When I first heard about it, my ears pricked as a possible suggestion for a revival at Greenwich Theatre. Having read the thing, I’m much less certain, but it’s certainly fun – and pretty rowdy stuff. And let’s face it – that was what 17th century comedy was all about.

It clearly demonstrates what the general population of Britain thought of Greenwich at the time (btw ‘green-gowning, if you hadn’t worked it out already, refers to the side-effects of outdoor ‘entertainment’, something one could – in the popular imagination, at least – get plenty of in Greenwich Park…) See Greenwich Bird for further proof of what people thought of the town…

Let’s take a look at the Dramatis Personae:

Men

Sir Thomas Reveller, an old wicked lewd knight.

Mr Raison, a Grocer

Mr Sassafras, a Drugster, both jolly citizens and companions with Sir Thos.

Lt. Worthy, a Young Nobleman, newly returned from Travel

Young Reveller*, Son to Sir Thomas,  a wild young fellow, kept by Mrs Raison and Courts Florella for a wife

Sir William Thoughtless, a foolish knight

A Beaux

Bully Bounce

 

Women

Dorinda, a private Mistress, kept by Lord Worthy and in Love with Young Reveller

Florella,

Violante, daughters to my Lady Hazard. Florella in love with Young Reveller. Violante in love with the Lt. Worthy.

Mrs Raison, in love with Y. Reveller

Lady Hazard, Aunt to Dorinda.

Constable, Watch, Masqueraders &etc

*If you’re thinking that perhaps this ‘Young Reveller’ character was rather popular with the ladies, I should perhaps say that, to save arguments, the role was taken by Mr Moutjoy himself.

 

All clear? Subtle it ain’t, but it was always meant to be comedy; always supposed to be knockabout, so fair enough.

It took me ages to track down a copy online, but I finally did, and present you the link here but in case you value your time, here’s what I made of it:

The first scene does, admittedly, crackle with good lines . It takes place in a Greenwich Grocer’s shop and consists of the chap’s wife trying to persuade her husband to buy her a carriage, promising not to be extravagant any more if only he gives into this one teeny request. When he refuses she rails against him with a fantastic exit speech:

Well, think on it, Bungler. I long for a Coach, and I will have a Coach, and you may spare it out of Clarret, you Sot, since you can’t get no children to inherit what you have, I’ll spend it and thou shalt never live an easy hour ’til I have a Coach and so Think on’t thou Associate of Drunkards, eternal Tobacco Funker; must I be contented with a Beast that stinks perpetually, sits up till two or three a-Clock in the Morning and knows nothing but his Bottle sometimes a week together? The World shall know what a Bedfellow thou art, that Snores all Night and art Sick in the Morning; thou debilitated Booby, thou Sapless Trunk.  (exit).

Blimey.

It’s a bit of a relief when the scene shifts to Tower Hill and Lt. Worthy, who having just returned from abroad, is thinking of rustling up a few mates and going to Greenwich, nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

Meanwhile Sir Thomas Reveller has a hangover:

I must leave off this Drinking, it will kill me else; for the Heat of my Body’s so violent it will set the Clarret within me a boiling and will make a hash of my bowels for Satan; yet I look pretty for my age; too. What a Pox, but I’m eight and forty and have lungs as shrill as a Eunuch, fa, la, la, la.

He’s fed up with his son George, (the Reveller, if you recall, played by Mr Moutjoy) for not letting him in on the female action:

“but what a cursed Rogue as keeps all his Whores to himself, he won’t let his none Dad come in for a Snack; I’m forced to lay on my own Maids.”

And so on. Thing is, it’s all roaring stuff, but after several pages of it, it starts to get a bit wearisome. I’d like a bit of actual plot to turn up. As it is, it plods on, slowly, slowly,  eventually unfolding a basic caper story that must have been pretty hackneyed even then, full of double and single entendres which must have been side-splitting in the 1670s but actually rather tedious after a while for me, at least  as is the interchangeability of the words ‘whore’ and ‘woman’ (and I speak as someone who actually seeks out Restoration Comedy when it’s on – I particularly enjoyed the Nash’s She Stoops to Conquer recently). Mountfort was writing at the fag end of the genre, and it feels like it.

I found my eyes glazing over after about four scenes, though every so often there was an entertaining turn of phrase; I particularly liked the answer to the question (of Greenwich Park) ‘what do we do here?’

‘Let’s have some Wine and Cold Chicken, go upon Flamstead’s leads and huzza to the Neighbouring Counties!

I love the idea of a load of mattressed 17th Century toffs climbing on the poor astronomer’s roof and shouting at Kent in the middle of the night. No wonder he was always in a bad mood if that’s what went on all the time…

I was also curious about the scene that takes place in a garden in Debtford-Wells – I don’t recall any wells round there, though naturally I’m no Deptford expert – puts me in mind a little of Peckham Spring…

Ultimately, this is an interesting curiosity, but not something I suspect ever needs to see the light of day again, though you never know, Greenwich Theatre might like (one hell of) a challenge. If they do, frankly, I’d suggest a revival of Lock Up Your Daughters, even if only for a reprise of the rabble-rousing When Does the Ravishing Begin?


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Greenwich Park Mountfort
Greenwich Park Mountfort


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