Theatre Review: Nell Gwynn

Theatre Review: Nell Gwynn

Written by Jessica Swale, Nell Gwynn charts the rags-to-riches story of Nell, London’s first actor-ess (“it means female actor”), in a saucy, irreverent, not-entirely-historically-accurate but very entertaining look into this woman’s life.

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Presented by The Stirling Players
Reviewed 23 February 2019

Megan Dansie brings this burning satire of 17th century sexist sensibility and interpersonal drama to Adelaide audiences with great success. Written by Jessica Swale, Nell Gwynn charts the rags-to-riches story of Nell, London’s first actor-ess (“it means female actor”), in a saucy, irreverent, not-entirely-historically-accurate but very entertaining look into this woman’s life.

The story traces “pretty, witty” Nell’s ascent from working as an impoverished orange-seller to becoming a respected actress courted by King Charles II. The audience is treated to a playful saga that comments on the art of theatre, the human foibles of politics, and, of course, the central role of women in all of it. While the individuals in charge might be men – like King Charles II (Peter Davies), or theatre director Thomas Killigrew (Lindsay Dunn), the play makes it clear that it is women who, though traditionally excluded from public society, make-or-break the political and theatrical success of the King and his company.

The show stars Stirling Community Theatre new-comer Emily Currie as Nell, who confidently juxtaposes a commanding sense of grace into Gwynn’s roughness. Though unexpected, her interpretation adds depth to the literary trope of a cockney “low-born” woman. It follows playwright Swale’s desire to move beyond a dismissal of the historical figure Gwynn as a tart or “bawdy floozy”, into a recognition of the actress’ talent, intelligence and “ability to bridge the class divide at the time”.

The whole cast (Emily Currie, Anita Pipprell, Kate Anolak, Alicia Zorkovic, Rose Harvey, Karyn Fuller, Peter Davies, Brad Martin, Lindsay Dunn, Philip Lineton, Matt Chapman, Simon Barnett and Dylan Odonnell) perform extremely well. There is a chemistry and flair to their performances that means the witty lines hit their mark again and again. Our opening night crowd was particularly appreciative, laughing and audibly reacting to the melodrama. Though not a musical, there is also light-handed singing and dance sprinkled throughout, sometimes used to great comedic effect. The costumes, lavish and gaudy as was the custom in the King’s court, are incredibly well-made. Their extravagance compliments the unpretentious set that smoothly rotates between representing the King’s castle and the King’s theatre company.

Musical direction is by Jacqui Maynard, and choreography by Rebecca Kemp. Add to this direction by Megan Dansie, writing by Jessica Swale, and the talented acting of the leading women, and the quality of this production of Nell Gwynn becomes a particularly resounding confirmation of women’s merit in the theatre.

Reviewed by Ana Obradovic

Venue: Stirling Community Theatre, Avenue Road, Stirling
Season: 22 February – 9 March 2019
Duration: Approx. 2hrs 20mins, including a twenty minute interval
Tickets: $22 full price $18 conc
Bookings: Box office (08) 7481 6152, or online https://www.stirlingplayers.sct.org.au/purchase-tickets

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