Gemma Arterton sparkles in this lavish production about the woman who would become King Charles II’s mistress. 

In a similar way to the hit ‘Shakespeare in Love’, Jessica Swale’s play is a celebration of the theatre and the arts, reaffirming the audience’s love for escaping into someone else’s life for a couple of hours.

Set in the 1660’s, King Charles II is on the throne and loves everything that is loud and sexy – but also a strong love for the theatre. Meanwhile young Nell Gwynn is selling oranges at Drury Lane until she is noticed and put on the stage, unaware of who is watching her.

What makes this production work so well is the way in which Christopher Luscombe’s production really captures the spirit of the time, drawing the audience in with its lavish set and costumes as well as the playful live music.

Jessica Swale’s play is filled with innuendos that are too good to spoil here and is completely playful from beginning to end. This is helped by the wonderful cast who fully embrace the characters that they are playing and the words that they are speaking.

Led by Gemma Arterton as the sharp and feisty Nell, whose performance is charming to watch to see how her character develops as an actress and mistress to the king while watching her struggle to balance all her responsibilities is enough to gain the audience’s sympathy for the situation she is in. It is a beautifully judged performance.

But Arterton has some excellent support as well. Particularly from Michele Dotrice as Nancy, whose sense of comic timing is perfect that you can’t help but wonder what she is going to do next. There is also a wonderfully spiteful performance from Sasha  Waddell as Lady Castlemaine, whose ambition knows no bounds – particularly when she realises that she is being replaced.

Meanwhile, David Sturzaker as Charles II is charming and likeable but also reveals the character’s reluctance to do anything to upset the people – remembering what happened to his father that shows his vulnerability and lack of confidence as a leader. In contrast, Greg Haiste’s Edward is over the top and dramatic – yet surprisingly convincing, drawing laughs in all of the right places.

It is a highly energetic and fast moving piece consistently, but at times it feels as though some scenes go on for too long without any purpose, losing its way slightly. But it is a very minor complaint in a strong production of a fascinating story.

This is a strong and delightful production, led by a strong and confident female cast and was perfect viewing for International Women’s Day. Well worth a visit.

Nell Gwynn is on at the Apollo Theatre until the 30th April. To book tickets visit: Ticketmaster.co.uk, Discount Theatre.com, Last Minute.com, Theatre Tickets Direct.co.uk, Love Theatre.com, Theatre People.com and UK Tickets.co.uk

 

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