I’m pretty sure the best types of theatre trips are the unexpected ones. My friend managed to score a great discount for seats via a work client (not because of a lack of interest in the play; the theatre was packed out on a Monday night) for Nell Gwynn, which meant that I also got to tick attending Shakespeare’s Globe off my bucket list.
Nell Gwynn is a 2015 play written by Jessica Swale and following the life of the titular character (Laura Pitt-Pulford), being revived at the Globe as part of its national tour. Nell rises from being an orange seller to going under the wing of the actor Charles Hart (Sam Marks) and becoming one of the first actresses. Her performances soon catch the eye of King Charles II (Ben Righton), and Nell becomes his mistress.
This play is a true comedy. Whilst there are moments of real feeling, especially when exploring Gwynn’s desire/need to leave behind her family to maintain her place in society, and the ways in which women’s success hinged on the opinions and favour of the men around them; Swale is just excellent at producing laugh-a-minute, innuendo-packed fast dialogue for her characters. Indeed, Nell Gwynn almost feels like it could be lifted from the period in which its set. Alongside the brilliant script, Christopher Luscombe’s direction keeps the play constantly bouncing along, and makes excellent use of the Globe’s unique stage and access to the standing area.
I’m pretty sure there isn’t a weak link in the very strong cast. Particular standouts are probably Esh Alladi as Edward Kynaston, who has made a career out of playing the female roles and is horrified by the idea of a real woman on stage; Sam Marks is great as Nell’s spurned lover and actor who manages to somehow be entirely serious whilst ‘acting’ in the period-specific style and as Queen Catherine, Joanne Howarth manages to bring a moment of real feeling when she confronts King Charles (mostly in Spanish too).
But of course, when a character’s name is the title, a lot of expectation rests on that performer. Fortunately, Laura Pitt-Pulford is really wonderful as Nell. She delivers all her comedic lines wonderfully, is suitably fiery when needed and also brings some moments of real tenderness.
This play is great, and if you can get to the Globe to see it before it closes at the weekend I would really suggest you do; if you’re a fan of Shakespearean plays generally, the film Shakespeare in Love, or just great theatre more generally; this is pretty much a must see.
Also, in terms of my experience as a first time visitor to the Globe, it is a really great experience. Being seated was great, as I imagine standing would probably give you sore feet, although you are literally more involved in you are a ‘groundling’. They also let you hire bench cushions (I was fine) and blankets (if I wasn’t trying to save money I would have definitely done this, as it does get pretty chilly in there). I will hopefully definitely be making a return visit.