I went to see Nell Gwynn at the Apollo Theatre with hardly any prior knowledge, I was just keen to explore something new and witness Gemma Arterton in a new West End role. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised at this light-hearted, witty and punchy play.
To give you an idea of the plot, Nell Gwynn is a famous historical figure from 1600s London, who started out as a protestant whore that sold oranges for a living but went on to be an adored actresses and favourite mistress to the King.
Majority of the play is based around the story of Nell (and the story is described as homage to her, and that some details may be extended due to limited knowledge and facts as it was so long ago) and her life as an actress and mistress.
I think as a person and character, Nell Gwynn was adored due to the fact despite the obvious sexism in the era (as previously, no woman were allowed in theatre) she was a woman who wasn’t afraid. I saw her as a feisty feminist with cheek, humour and a willingness to stand up for herself and towards men but with a charm and innocence that let her get away with it. I think Gemma Arterton captured this with excellence; everything down to her facial expressions seemed to have the audience falling in love with her as Nell.
The rest of the cast were of equal brilliance that caught the audience feeling the right emotions at the right time and kept us feeling involved. There is also the bonus of an appearance from a beautiful Spaniel dog that had the audience in awe! The set remained the same throughout, but I thought it worked and was well designed. There were several costumes, all of which seemed to fit the period and some were rather comical too.
Also, as it was described as a play, I was surprised, but pleased, to discover that there actually were quite a few musical numbers/dance routines involved. This was all part of the story, humour and stage life, but I thought they really fit and enhanced the performance. I fear I may not have appreciated it as much without that aid, as it helped cross all areas of entertainment but without it being too much.
My only real criticism is that a number of the jokes went completely over my head, while the rest of the audience were laughing. I don’t know if that was due to my lack of understanding of the era and it’s language, my age or class. Therefore it may not be to everyone’s tastes, and in all honesty it wasn’t something I would normally choose, but despite that, I still understood, appreciated and was entertained by the majority of it.
In summary, I would say this is a Shakespeare-esque play filled with high-energy, sharp and witty comedy, romance and drama that would definitely have appeal if you were interested in the history of London, the rise of theatre or feminism.
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