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Wednesday 08 March 2017

Review: Nell Gwynn @ Theatre Royal Brighton (Reviewed by Gary Cook)

Jessica Swale's exhilarating take on the world of Restoration theatre arrives in Brighton with a twinkle in its eye and a big saucy wink at the audience.
Photo: Sam Marks and Laura Pitt-Pulford

This production of Nell Gwynn, which plays at Theatre Royal Brighton until 11th March 2017,  charts the rise of our unlikely heroine from her roots as an *ahem* orange-seller in 1660s London through becoming a celebrated "actor-ess" to becoming Charles II's "favourite mistress". 

Partly a poignant love story, partly a homage to a trailblazing proto-feminist, partly a love-letter to theatrical history, the whole manages to be a warm-hearted, rollicking comedy. 

Swale has carefully sketched around the bones of known facts so that the incidents and relationships portrayed remain as accurate as possible. 

Another layer is added - a knowing modern parallel on the relationship of politics to the arts (hints at the futility of leaving an alliance with the rest of Europe and austerity measures were greeted with warm applause by the audience).

The detailed and gilded set triples-up to represent Charles's Royal Court, and both back- and front stage of the King's theatre - choreographed transitions between the three scenarios are seamless. It even includes a minstrel's gallery, where four musicians play period instruments to accompany the action and the rousing songs.

The ensemble cast, equally at home with innuendo-laden comedy, moments of pathos and spectacularly good musical numbers are all perfect in their roles, but kudos goes to Ben Righton as Charles II, Sam Marks as Charles Hart, the dashing leading actor of the King's Company who first encourages Nell on stage and the hilarious Esh Alladi, playing Kynaston, the male actor specialising in the women's parts, horrified at the possibility of being upstaged - "They've disgraced our trade. Ruined our art. They've put a woman on the stage".

Nell Gwynn was first presented at The Globe, and then transferred to the West End starring Gemma Arterton, which won the 2016 Best New Comedy Olivier in 2016. 

I saw that wonderful production, and was knocked out by Arterton's performance… I am pleased to report that the English Touring Theatre's production has as its lead the wonderful Laura Pitt-Pulford, whose take on Nell is very different but just as feisty, funny, seductive and pitch-perfect.

In short, a brilliant play, brilliantly performed. If there are any tickets left, do yourself a favour and get down to the Theatre Royal this week.

Nell Gwynn plays Theatre Royal Brighton until 11th March 2017. For tickets please CLICK HERE.

by: Gary Cook




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