Nell Gwynn, King's Theatre, Review
After audience and critical success last year in 2016 and scooping the title of Best New Comedy at the Olivier Awards, Jessica Swale’s Nell Gwynn leaves the West End to tour the UK with the English Touring Theatre.
The play is, as the title suggests, a biographical tale of the lady– or rather, the actress, mistress and celebrity of the latter half of the 17th century. It would be nigh impossible to include all of Nell’s charms and escapades in a two and a half hour play, and it is long; what we get instead is a riotously funny, sharp-tongued sweep through the life and relationships of ‘pretty, witty Nell’, one of history’s most beloved rags to royalty heroines.
Selling oranges in the pit at Drury Lane, Nell (Laura Pitt-Pulford) is talent spotted by the King’s Company’s leading actor, Charles Hart (played beautifully dramatically by Sam Marks) and brought into the spotlight as it becomes not only acceptable but fashionable for women to take to the stage. As she becomes a sensation, Nell is talent spotted once more by a far greater patron, and is ushered into grander spheres than she’d ever bargained for.
The production is as vibrant and brazen as you could wish; with a lavish set and decadent costumes it really is a feast for the eyes, and for the ears with Nigel Hess’ original score and live musicians playing period instruments. The spirit of the theatre is brought to life by the exquisite cast and wakes up the King’s Theatre stage with pace, punch and very poignant moments.
The play is a comedy; that much is apparent as you can hear the audience’s laughter rolling out of the auditorium. Esh Alladi is painfully funny as the diva Edward Kynaston (with an impressive pair of linen breasts) often stealing his scenes, and Ben Righton sparkles as a surprisingly endearing Charles II.
As theatrical spectacles go, Nell Gwynn has it all. One of the most fabulously funny and forthcoming performances to come out of London in a while, Pitt-Pulford and her entourage will have you in stitches with historical quips and even a jibe or two about Brexit. It is uplifting and effervescent and an absolute treat not to be missed.
King’s Theatre, 18th-22nd April, 2.30pm Matinees, 7.30pm Evenings. £18-£31.50