Review:
Nell Gwynn

Winner of the 2016 Olivier Award for best new comedy, Jessica Swale’s English Touring Company production at Blackpool Grand Theatre, 13 April

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There’s something changing in dreary London city and Nell Gywnn isn’t going to let the opportunity pass her by. While selling oranges near the theatre her quick wit is noticed by actor Charles Hart, who believes she might just be what his theatre troupe is looking for. It’s time for women to tread the boards. Nell is quickly appreciated by theatre lover King Charles II and from there the audience journeys with this incredible woman as she faces the social and political turmoil of the 1600s.

Written by Jessica Swale, Nell Gywnn is a hearty play packed with double entendres and cheeky one liners but manages to keep its feminist message clear throughout. It is clear to see why the production has been so celebrated since its early days at Shakespeare’s Globe – not often do we see a play that can maintain light-heartedness whilst tackling such important issues.

Four versatile and talented musicians provided fantastic accompaniment to the piece on period style instruments whilst the decadent set almost blended into the Grand Theatre’s existing features. Lavish decoration, costume and live music transported the audience to 1660 London.

Laura Pitt Pulford (Nell) is to be applauded for her role in making this production so powerful by creating such an endearing and honest character. Her performance captures the imaginations of the audience with Nell’s brave and fun-loving nature. Frustrated with seeing simple-minded, shallow female characters Nell cries out to playwright John Dryden to write a part fitting for a real woman, exclaiming “We’re as knotty and tangly as you are!” and remarking that Shakespeare’s Juliet was a “noodle”.

The entire cast radiated energy. Esh Alladi played Edward Kynaston comically, with loud expressive gestures and facial expressions much favoured among the audience. He provided insight into those close-minded types Nell would have to battle to achieve her goals.

Following the success of her previous plays, including Blue Stockings, Jessica Swale has outdone herself with this portrayal of theatre’s first female actors. In Heather Neill’s interview with Swale the writer says: “Primarily I wanted it to be fun, and if it’s a play that Nell would have enjoyed, that’s enough for me. “There is absolutely no doubt that this play is fun and had the audience – and at one point the actors – in stitches.

Nell Gwynn is at Blackpool Grand Theatre until 15 April

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Nell Gwynn

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