“I can dance and I can sing and I am good at either. And I can do the other thing, when we get together!”
If any show was summed up by its lyrics, then Nell Gwynn is it. The famous mistress of King Charles II is brought to life by a collection of bawdy songs, witty lines and the fabulous Gemma Arterton – who can dance and who can sing and yes, she is good at either.
Nell Gwynn has a rich and fascinating history. She came from nothing but became one of the first women to act on the English stage. Through her performances she was noticed by King Charles II, a monarch who encouraged the arts, and became his most famous mistress.
It’s very much a Cinderella story, a young girl from Cheapside falls in love with royalty and ends up in the palace. Yet unlike a fairytale, Jessica Swale’s version is gritty, rude and tragic.
Arterton is in her element and you can tell she’s far more at home playing a cheeky wench than some of her more serious roles. And who can blame her?
In fact the entire cast seem to be having a lot of fun. And so are the audience, who chuckle, cackle and guffaw throughout the performance. Michelle Dotrice as Nancy is a true comedienne, with perfect expression and timing, not to mention some of the best lines.
Greg Haiste is fabulous as Edward Kynastion, prancing about in his dress and padded brassiere, being obstreperous at every given chance and Jay Taylor is suitably dashing as Charles Hart, Nell’s previous lover. And of course, in true period comedy style there is Oliver Cromwell, played by Milly – the cutest King Charles Spaniel.
The songs (with music composed by Nigel Hess) are inspired, especially the one about ‘mon grand chapeau’ mocking Charles French mistress Louise de Kéroualle (Sasha Waddell) and indeed the French – a big hit with the audience.
Costumes and wigs are also excellent, as indeed is the stage design, with large golden tassels and a central royal box. It’s colourful and theatrical, setting the scenes well and with a suitable contrast between the characters from each walk of life.
I left the theatre in high spirits, desperate to be a part of such a fun production, but also determined to learn more about Nell Gwynn.
Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes
Photo: Tristram Kenton
Nell Gwynn is playing at the Apollo Theatre until 30 April 2016. Get tickets
Want to learn more about Nell Gwynn? Take a visit to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane Tour and hear all about her