BAWDY, gaudy and glorious. Nell Gwynn is a joyous, fun-filled production peopled with a cast that any director would dream of putting on a stage. It’s a treat from beginning to end.
King’s Theatre, Leven Street
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The rags to royalty story of Charles II’s favourite mistress, orange seller and one time lady of the night turned actress Eleanor ‘Nell’ Gwynn, is a fruity tale of feminism and femininity.
In an age in which audiences expected women to be played by boys or men, ‘pretty witty Nell’ broke the taboo, becoming the leading lady of Restoration theatre in the process.
In the tile role, Laura Pitt-Pulford is mesmeric. Mischievous and worldly-wise, she plays directly to her audiences both on and off stage with a twinkling charm that wins her that rarest of compliments, hers performance is indeed a tour de force.
Her game is played out on Hugh Durrant’s balconied treasure trove of a set. Lush and luxurious, both in colour and design, rich gilded surfaces and checkered floors contrast with wicker baskets and simple stools, allowing seamless transitions between Nell’s Drury Lane dressing room and Charles’ palace. All are dominated by a massive Royal Crest.
Bringing the London of Samuel Peyps to life with joyous abandon, Jessica Swale’s knowing script is a thing a beauty.
Intricately layered, it works on many levels, from the low comedy of the Carry On films and the laugh out loud ‘Coarse Acting’ of Michael Green, to heart-wrenching moments of grief and touching scenes of tenderness.
It is also laced with contemporary in-jokes, never more so than in one exchange between Charles II and his advisor Lord Arlington on the merits of leaving Europe.
These lines, played with implicit understanding that the politics of the 1600’s echo uncomfortably with those of today, garner a show-stopping round of applause.
Supporting Pitt-Pulford is an ensemble cast every bit as impressive as their leading lady.
Issues of colour-blind casting aside, they are to a man and woman on their game.
Ben Righton brings a vulnerable humanity to his ‘Merry Monarch,’ while veteran Michael Cochrane’s Lord Arlington is a delicious study of pomp and arrogance.
Sam Marks as Nell’s leading man Charles Hart and Esh Alladi as the Edward Kynaston, too shine, as does Joanne Howarth’s drink sodden Old Ma Gwynn.
Special mention, however, must go to Mossie Smith’s hard put upon Nancy, undoubtedly the finest of all the comic creations on the stage.
Theatre of this quality seldom tours to the Capital making Shakespeare’s Globe’s Nell Gwynn, undoubtedly this week’s Hot Ticket.