Jessica Swale's "Nell Gwynn" at The Globe - Review

Presented in the majestic surroundings of The Globe theatre, Jessica Swale's new play, Nell Gwynn, surprises with bawdy humour, physical comedy and witty songs. The atmosphere in The Globe is electric - there's no better place to enjoy this brand new romp, which is hilarious from beginning to end.

Nell Gwynn tells the rags to royalty story of one of the first female actors, and mistress of King Charles II.

Enticed by the charismatic actor Charles Hart to make the leap from selling oranges, to the stage with the King's players, Nell charms and entertains her way into hearts of the audience, her peers, and eventually the king.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw inspires as Nell. Her portrayal is confident, natural, and very funny. From the seduction of Charles Hart, to the coy refusal of Charles II - and not forgetting a side-splitting comic turn with a glorious, grand chapeau - she enchants throughout.

As Nell is set on her rise to fame, she and Charles Hart (played by the dashing Jay Taylor) become lovers both on stage and off. He teaches her the art of captivating the audience - as she captivates him.

Nell's popularity quickly grows, and with an unexpected visit from David Sturzaker's irresistible King Charles II, she unwittingly finds herself the object of his affections. After initially spurning his advances, she succumbs to his tenacious seduction and negotiates a keeping of £500 a year, but also gets something she didn't bargain for - love.

"Nell Gwynn" is a laugh a minute comedy, thanks to Swale's cleverly pitched dialogue, and Christopher Luscombe's perfectly timed direction.

The entire cast is superb, but three characters in particular perform the scene stealing, comic set pieces that have the audience in barely-able-to-breathe hysterics. Greg Haiste is fabulously diva-like as Edward Kynaston, one of a dying breed of male actors taking women's roles, who's all a fluster at the arrival of a talented - and popular - "actor-ess". Sarah Woodward provides a duo of two contrasting, yet wonderfully over-the-top characterisations of Queen Catherine, and the particularly cheeky Ma Gwynn - word of warning; you may not want to stand too near the front! Amanda Lawrence's series of scenes as Nell's dresser and reluctant emergency stand-in Nancy, has the audience rolling in the yard. Her horrified facial expressions as she's coerced into following stage directions are priceless - I don't think anyone else could play the role as well.

The merry band of minstrels also deserve a special mention for giving the production the feel of an authentic Old Globe experience.

(c) Louise Quelch 2015

Nell Gwynn comes highly recommended and runs at Shakespeare's Globe at weekends until 17 October. Tickets start at £5.

Update:@GemmaArterton is Nell Gwynn in Jessica Swale's Olivier Award-Winning BEST NEW COMEDY! SEASON ENDS 30 APRIL. Apollo Theatre, London

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