Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
Nell Gwynn by Jessica Swales
Guildbury’s Theatre Company
Two and a half hours of sheer delight, playfulness of a high order
This joyful romp is the story of Nell, the daughter of a brothel-keeper and hawker of oranges in Cheapside who became one of the first female actors on the English stage. She rose to the status of favourite mistress to King Charles II, the “Merry Monarch”, after he regained the crown following Oliver Cromwell’s repressive decade of rule. This was the era when women were for the first time allowed onstage. Keeping broadly to historical facts, Jessica Swales has subverted history to create a rip-roaring musical comedy set in the pleasure-loving court of Charles II and the revitalised theatrical milieu of the 1660’s.
The star, in the several plays-within-the-play, and of the whole Guildbury’s production, is Amy de Roche as Nell Gwynn. Her beautiful smile, her unflagging energy and charisma and her lovely voice (as well as the other charms that her seventeenth century dresses reveal) enable her to carry off this demanding role with huge success. But every one of the cast turned in a great performance, from Edward Kynaston as the affronted male diva usurped as a player of female roles, to Pam Hemelryk as Nancy, the dresser attempting to replace Nell in a rehearsal and driving the director (Andrew Donovan) to distraction with her ineptitude, in one of the funniest scenes.
Jessica Swales has written a winning play, combining historical fact, great songs, some amusing references to current contemporary issues and gentle fun at the expense of the theatrical profession in general. More seriously, Nell in Swales’ play represents an ideal of modern woman as an independent, pragmatic person, who values herself and is valued for her sexuality but also for her honesty and her talent.
This is an excellent evening’s entertainment by this accomplished Surrey company. If you can get tickets, either for the production at Waverley Abbey, Farnham, on Saturday 15th July (matinée or evening) or at Haslemere Museum 27th - 29th July, don’t delay - you won’t regret it!
Showing at Waverley Abbey, Farnham, 15th July at 2pm and 8pm
at Haslemere Museum 27th -29th July
Photographs © Phill Griffith.
Tickets available at http://www.guildburys.com