Saturday, 30 April 2016

'Nell Gwynn' Apollo Theatre ****

Nell Gwynn is world renowned for being the very first professional female actor in the United Kingdom, moreover to witness a play that presents this iconic moment in British Theatre was exceedingly welcoming indeed. The West End transfer of Shakespeare’s Globe’s production of Jessica Swales’s 2013 play, ‘Nell Gwynn’ was such an ambrosial depiction of how this woman  fought against a highly prejudice and sexist Britain, additionally, the performances were outstanding throughout.

‘Nell Gwynn’ is set in the 1600’s where we are introduced to Nell Gwynn who is heard heckling by actor, Charles Hart outside of the playhouse where he decides to train her as an actress which was revolutionary as women were not allowed to perform professionally, furthermore the two form a relationship.  When King Charles II bequests that women can act on stage and as such Nell becomes a member of the King’s Company with the full support of playwright, John Dryden (Nicholas Shaw) and director, Thomas Killgrew (Michael Garner), on the contrary, Edward Kynaston (Greg Haiste) disapproves most strongly as he has previously played the female parts. Throughout the performance, King Charles II seems to make more than a few appearances at the playhouse as he has become fascinated in Nell’s charms and her acting abilities, on the other hand, King Charles II is already married to Queen Catherine (Sarah Woodward) and has two mistresses, Lady Castlemaine and Louise de Keroualle (Sasha Waddell) so he is exceedingly sleazy and a cheater. However, Nell does not seem to mind about this and she decides to break up with Charles Hart. Tension builds as Nell becomes threatened by Lady Castlemaine and Charles’ chief minister, Lord Arlington (David Rintoul) who declares that she must choose between King Charles II or the theatre and from this a brutal attack on Nell’s sister, Rose (Anneika Rose) occurs which has been set up by Arlington.  Rose is not thrilled by her sister’s new attitude and her lack of communication to her and their mother, Ma Gwynn, in addition to this; she’s not impressed that Nell is not proud of her background.  When Nell is informed of her mother’s death which Rose quarrels with her due to the fact that she didn’t bother to say goodbye to her. There are further developments as the Exclusion Bill has been dilapidated where Arlington has been appointed as the Royal dog-walker and King Charles II and Nell are more content than ever. Nonetheless, as King Charles II experiences a stroke and unfortunately his health deteriorates and as such; he dies and Nell is not allowed to be by his bedside. At the finale, Nell makes a sensible choice to return to the King’s Company on a full-time basis where she makes it up with Charles Hart and performs in Dryden’s, ‘Tyrannick Love’ and because she is out of the acting loop, she offers her role to Kynaston.  Swale’s narrative is stupendous as there is such an in-depth into how the very first female professional actor who from an un-privileged background became one of King Charles II mistresses who in actual fact he really loved and would do anything for her. 

One found the performances by the company of, ‘Nell Gwynn’ to be so undefeated as there is an enormous amount of joyful energy that has been infused in capturing the emotions and humour that is required for a piece such as this one. Gemma Arterton is resplendent as central protagonist, Nell Gwynn; especially how we see the transformation from someone who is from a working class background to being a famous actor and the King’s mistress, moreover, what makes me loose sympathy is that she turns her back on a man who actually found here and made her famous and her refusal to see her mother is quite appalling. David Sturzaker is magnificent as cringe worthy King Charles II; especially how disrespectful he comes across to not only his wife and two fellow mistresses, then again, you can see that Nell is the woman of whom he really wants to be with but  due to certain circumstances it looks like it won’t happen.  Jay Taylor is impressive as King’s Company lead actor, Charles Hart; predominantly how at the beginning he sees something quite special about Nell and what she can offer to the theatre industry, nevertheless, you can see that he is vastly upset by Nell’s betrayal as he feels hurt that he has given her everything and what does she do, she turns her back on him. 

Christopher Luscombe’s direction is first-rate here as he has presented an accomplished performance that highlights a pivotal moment in not only British Theatre but women’s liberation as the woman was able to perform in a famous theatrical venue without any repercussions whatsoever which was a triumph. Hugh Durrant’s design is opulent as we care transported to the 1600’s immediately and the costumes were out of the world and highly realistic to the time and stunning also, as well as, the scenic art and construction were heavenly and are a credit to the wonderful practitioners that are scenic artists and constructors. Overall, the experience of, ‘Nell Gwynn’ to be such an energising and thought-provoking tale of how Nell Gywnn fought against austerity and prejudice in a male dominated society.

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