NELL GWYNNat Shakespeare's Globe
Jessica Swale's feisty, feminist [and great fun] historical romp is back at Shakespeare's Globe for a dozen performances. As director Christopher Luscombe puts it, a lap of honour at the end of its national tour.
It's great fit for this inclusive space – the musicians' gallery becomes Charles II's Royal Box – the period instruments move aside to the Lords' Rooms. Around the stage left pillar there's purple upholstery for the Court, stage right the humbler backstage trappings of the playhouse.
Almost a complete change of cast since it last appeared here in the autumn of 2015. Nell is now played by Laura Pitt-Pulford, a sharp, worldly-wise young woman, human and likeable, climbing eagerly from orange seller to leading lady to royal mistress – her King is sympathetically played by Ben Righton, giving a fine comic performance in the style of a much younger Simon Callow. Kynaston, one of the last surviving boy actors, whose raison d'être is threatened by the royal innovation of “actoresses”, is brilliantly done by Esh Alladi, flouncing, flashing his eyes, ignominiously reduced to the rank of spear carrier. Michael Cochrane makes a cynical, scheming courtier, and Nicholas Bishop is the playwright Dryden, forever struggling with deadlines and the demands of Clive Hayward's Killigrew, the incompetent manager of Drury Lane.
Nigel Hess's music, the songs and the dances, the wit, the bawdy and the amusing anachronisms all conspire to give us a very entertaining couple of hours, whilst gently exploring some more serious themes – ambition, power, poverty, and the place of women in the performing arts.