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Nell Gwynn

Date

16th November 2017

Society

Hertford Drama & Operatic Society

Venue

Hertford Theatre, Hertford

Type of Production

Musical

Director

Andy Lee

Musical Director

Gabby Hanley

Choreographer

Carrie Gilham and Abigail Lowman

Report

Author: Vicki Avery

This “play with music” is huge fun, and exactly as it was described on the poster – irreverent, bawdy, and funny. But it was also many other things, including being an insight into 17th century theatre.

The play opens in Charles Hart’s theatre, where Nell sells her oranges, and explains how she became an actress and then became one of Charles II favourite mistresses.

The members of the theatre company were a delight, with some really convincing comedy performances.

John Craig did very well as the extremely wooden Ned Spiggett, and knew exactly how not to deliver a line.

Peter Tolfts was an attractive and passionate Charles Hart, persuading Nell to join the cast. Command of the stage was good and his delivery of dialogue was spot on.

Adrian Fergus-Fuller shone as Edward Kynaston, the leading lady, and he was adamant that no female could ever realistically play a woman. His demonstration of the use of the fan was great fun. His flamboyant characterisation wand excellent timing was a great asset to the pace of the piece.

Carrie Gilham (Nancy) was another rather wooden actress when press-ganged into appearing on stage, but her comic one-liners were perfectly timed and her facial expressions and body language never slipped for a moment. A very enjoyable performance. Well done.

Jo Sampson was a lovely world-weary John Dryden and along with an almost sane Christopher Wallace (Thomas Killigrew) concocted some very unusual plots for future plays. The pair was well cast and complemented each other perfectly.

Tamsin Goodwin-Connelly was an excellent Nell, at first seeming quite shallow and vulgar, but later showing hidden depths, and definitely giving the impression that she genuinely cared for the king. She really “sparkled” on stage and sang very well. I particularly enjoyed “Bonjour, Bonne Journee” as Nell totally upstaged Louise de Keroualle, played by a very colourful Nicola Thomas. This actress took full advantage of making the most of a minor role. A well thought through characterization that could have become over comedic. 

King Charles II (Dan Thomas) was perfect for the role. Again, here we had great command of the stage and an awareness of every character’s position so that they did not get too close to the king.

 Though weak and indecisive, he was full of charm and seemed to care for his many mistresses, especially the grasping Barbara Castlemaine, confidently played by Helen Budd.

Martyn Broyd was suitably grand as the sensible Lord Arlington, trying to get King Charles to behave. An experienced actor, he made full use of the light and shade needed for the voice, in order to test the audience as to whether they should judge him as a good or bad character.

There were some brilliant cameo appearances. Hazel Halliday was a jealous Queen, spitting out some quite rude Portuguese lines, and Pat Lay was a foul-mouthed Ma Gwynn.

Nell’s sister Rose was sympathetically played by Hannah Wilce. This was a well-controlled performance and I shall be keen to see more of this young actress in the future.

The simple, all purpose set meant that all the scenes could blend seamlessly into each other and the placing of the blowers, fiddlers and bangers in one of the boxes above the stage was a good idea.

Musical Director Gabby Hanley and her musicians gave a very Restoration feel to the music of Nigel Hess and we could clearly hear Jessica Swales’ amusing lyrics. I particularly enjoyed “Five Days to Go”

Costumes were appropriate and hair (wigs) suitable for the period. One small point. As we could see the musicians it would have been more fitting to have their hair covered in some form of linen cap rather than just hanging.

This was a successful production and very much enjoyed by the audience on the evening I attended.

Thanks must go to Davina Foster for her hospitality throughout the evening and I hope to see you again soon.