London Theatre Blogger Patrick Sexton Reviews Nell Gwynn in the West End
Nell Gwynn is a treat for any theatregoer. From the intricate set design you’ll notice when walking into the theatre, to the beautiful costumes and set pieces, the show manages to accomplish a lot with little. Full of cheeky laughs and an occasional dance number, Nell Gwynn shines on the West End.
The show opens with Nell, a young woman who wants to be an actress in a time before it was socially-acceptable for females to act. She’s taught by an actor, (the jaunty Jay Taylor), whom she develops a strong relationship with. Later, we meet the charming, and sometimes arrogant yet always well-acted King Charles II, played by David Sturzaker who takes an interest in Nell. She treats the King in ways he’s not used to being treated and he catches an interest in her.
Gemma Arterton steals the show as Nell Gwynn. Her natural talent shines onstage and off. Gemma never has an out-of-character moment and her blunt and beautiful performance appears effortless.
Nell isn’t the only character who stand outs, however. The supporting cast hits the mark every time with their comedic timing. Michele Dotrice as Nell’s costume designer and Greg Haiste as the actor who used to play the leading lady before Nell use their clever one-liners to excite the audience and on occasion, steal the scene.
The show is lighthearted but serious when it needs to be. It’s scene changes make the transitions between comedy and drama effortless. What makes the show standout from any other on the West End is how it acknowledges the audience and brings them into the show; it’s not afraid to remind the audience of what they’re watching, creating a metafictional environment which may leave the audience feeling more of a participant than an observer; the show stresses the importance of making an audience feel included and it never strays from that theme.
The director (Christopher Luscombe), has organized a cast that knows how to shine when it’s their time. Luscombe manages to keep the show well-paced and consistent although the second act grows darker than the first. A show that once could’ve been dry is given life through its energetic, tongue-in-cheek deliverance because of its superb casting and directing.