Was Gwynn the first real feminist? This hilarious play certainly portrays her as such and in the most convincing – and entertaining manner. Laura Pitt Pulford embraces the role with appropriate gusto, bawdiness and energy from the start, but as the play unfolds she also reveal the softer side of Nell as she genuinely falls for the king. King Charles is beautifully portrayed by Ben Righton as a man who understands his place and is determined not to be manipulated by the self motivated courtiers around him, and to hilarious effect. His gentle arrogance is rather attractive, and unexpected, and provides some of the funniest moments in the play. Not that the funny moments are in short supply. The King’s Company of actors are a motley crew, obsessive, delusional and committed to their “art”. It’s an hilarious insight into the theatre of the time, manners and attitudes and especially the fact that until Charles II men had played the roles of women, full marks to Esh Alladi for the latter. Jessica Swale’s excellent script is engaging, witty and at times moving. Nell’s rise from whore to King’s mistress and courtier by way of the stage is beautifully constructed, and the inclusion of music, finely played, and song and dance, helps rather than hinders that story. I left the theatre entertained, aching from laughter and with a thirst to find out more about this extraordinary women who until last night had been simply a mythical figure.
Theatre Royal Brighton