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Nell Gwynn

by on 1 June 2019

A Steamy Toe Tapping Affair!

Nell Gwynn

by Jessica Swale

The Questors at The Judi Dench Playhouse, Ealing until 8th June

Review by Viola Selby

‘Let not poor Nelly starve’, those were Charles II’s famous last words and Jessica Swale has certainly not let her do so by creating this raunchy, regal feast of comedy and talent. Nell Gwynn, through its cast and crew, manages to transport its audiences back in time and tell a tale based mainly on historical fact about a ‘Protestant Whore’ who stole the heart of the king.



From the very start, the audience are greeted with a sense of regal pomposity, similar to that of a West End theatre. This is all thanks to the creative genii of Set Design Advisor Alex Marker and his team of scenic painters and prop makers. Although the centre of the stage has been kept bare, not only emphasising the role of the stage in Nell’s life but also allowing the audience to use their imagination, the backdrop is stunning with painted statues, marbelsque columns and red velvet curtains. This same high level of artistry is maintained throughout the play by Carla Evans’s fantastic use of shape, material and colour in her period costume designs. Each piece perfectly matches its character and helps to bring this period to life. From the rainbow of colours worn by Charles and Nell to the sinisterly black outfit of Lord Arlington, a sneaky game-playing foreign minister and chief adviser to the king – played so realistically by Philip Sheahan you would have thought he was one of our current MPs!


Although this play is set hundreds of years ago, the cast effortlessly manage to make it a story just as entertaining and relevant for today’s audience as it could ever be. From phones being thrown in buckets of water, tit jokes and naughty ditties to perfectly planted puns and the very honest responses from Nancy, performed by the wonderfully witty Wendy Megeney, the audience are kept laughing throughout. If you are a fan of the Carry On series or Black Adder, then this would definitely be up your alley! However, this is not a pantomime with unrealistic characters. Even the bitchy egocentric Edward Kynaston, an actor who plays female roles, is not performed as a two dimensional dame. Instead Julian Smith is captivating, both in his dresses and as an actor whose very purpose on stage is now being taken over by a woman and he just cannot accept giving up the limelight. But what a woman to give up the limelight to! Nell Rose gives both a sensual and feminist edge to the title character, proving she is not just a woman out to grab herself a title by ‘lying back and thinking of England’, like Lady Barbara, or Louise de Kerouaille, both brought to life by the brilliance of Maya Markelle. No, Rose’s Nell is a woman achieving her career goals and an advocate and role model for female advancement, telling Dryden, an anxiety-prone playwright, tremendously played by Tim Pemberton, to stop writing such flimsy pathetic female characters as ‘we’re as knotty and tangled as you’. Whilst it is through Rose’s chemistry with both David Hovatter, a heartthrob of an actor who plays leading actor Charles Hart, and Mike Hadjipateras, regally sublime as Charles II, that truly makes this play one steamy toe tapping affair!

Viola Selby
May 2019

Photography by Carla Evans and Marissa Hahn

From → Drama, Reviews

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