Guildbury’s Theatre Company
Two and a half hours of sheer delight, playfulness of a high order
This joyful romp is the story of Nell, the daughter of a brothel-keeper and hawker of oranges in Cheapside who became one of the first female actors on the English stage. She rose to the status of favourite mistress to King Charles II, the “Merry Monarch”, after he regained the crown following Oliver Cromwell’s repressive decade of rule. This was the era when women were for the first time allowed onstage. Keeping broadly to historical facts, Jessica Swales has subverted history to create a rip-roaring musical comedy set in the pleasure-loving court of Charles II and the revitalised theatrical milieu of the 1660’s.
It’s an evening full of fun, songs and good-humoured ribaldry, as we go back-stage to the rehearsals of plays by John Dryden (Graham Russell-Pryce, looking and sounding remarkably like Richard Branson) by actors who often had to learn their lines in hours rather than weeks in order to keep their patron, King Charles, amused. Jason Orbaum’s languid portrait of the fun-loving monarch is reminiscent of Hugh Laurie in his kingly roles in Blackadder.
The King’s succession of mistresses before and concurrent with Nell are also a matter of historical record. One of them, Lady Barbara Castlemaine, is played with huge gusto and frequent hysterics by Tessa Duggleby – what brio, and what venom and passion when she’s ousted by Nell in the King’s affections!
Jessica Swales has written a winning play, combining historical fact, great songs, some amusing references to current contemporary issues and gentle fun at the expense of the theatrical profession in general. More seriously, Nell in Swales’ play represents an ideal of modern woman as an independent, pragmatic person, who values herself and is valued for her sexuality but also for her honesty and her talent.
This is an excellent evening’s entertainment by this accomplished Surrey company. If you can get tickets, either for the production at Waverley Abbey, Farnham, on Saturday 15th July (matinée or evening) or at Haslemere Museum 27th - 29th July, don’t delay - you won’t regret it!
Showing at Waverley Abbey, Farnham, 15th July at 2pm and 8pm
at Haslemere Museum 27th -29th July
Photographs © Phill Griffith.
Tickets available at http://www.guildburys.com