Neglected plays rarely turn out on revival to be especially good plays, thereby supplying the explanation for their neglect. Thus it is, alas, with Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton’s The Roaring Girl, which this week launched a season of four productions at the Swan simultaneously celebrating the work of some of Shakespeare’s contemporaries and the role of women on the stage.

True, you have to admire the amazing woman at its centre — streetwise, strutting, standing proud in defiance of all that the corrupt world can throw at her and others. But you can hardly escape the conclus-ion that the cross-dressing, fist-fighting, ball-busting Moll Cutpurse is showcased in an entertainment unworthy of her — and certainly of the first-class performance offered by Lisa Dillon as this real-life character.

Put bluntly, the play comes over as a bit of an embarrassment. Its audience is expected to find humour in a series of wearying puns, the unremitting smuttiness of which starts to pall long before the (overlong) three- hour traffic of the stage is concluded. It is like being trapped with a collection of Shakespeare’s least funny clowns, with no meatier matter to relish later.

The plot is at once weak and convoluted. Its principal thread concerns the efforts of a young man called Sebastian (winningly played by Joe Bannister) to overcome his father’s objections to his marrying fiancée Mary (Faye Castelow) by pretending to be enamoured of someone much worse. She is Moll.

Dad (David Rintoul) seeks to thwart this supposed new romance through the agency of a spy in the camp. This is Trapdoor, played by Geoffrey Freshwater in an off-puttingly Cockney style part Sid James, more Derek Jameson. In the play’s direst moment he is found doing a musical rap with Moll based on underworld argot.

The rock style sits uneasily in a production already dislocated in time by director Jo Davies to late Victorian days. At least the designs (Naomi Dawson) look good.

While there is a desperate-for-laughs tone to much of the acting, I will exempt from this stricture the well-judged turn of Timothy Speyer as a (supposedly) cuckol-ded husband and Kier Charles as his (pretend) rival.

The Roaring Girl
The Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Until September 30
Box office: 0844 800 1110