The poster of Nell Gwynn shows a saucy, bare-shouldered Gemma Arterton and promises “fun, funny and joyous… a cast of 20! and a band… naughty songs… merry dances. And a dog!”
And Christopher Luscombe‘s lively production of Jessica Swale‘s bawdy, feminist, Restoration-style romp delivers every one of those items it advertises. It’s also the perfect vehicle to demonstrate that Gemma Arterton is the real deal, a stage actress of the highest order, with charisma by the bagful. And, for the record, the dog (Milly playing “Oliver Cromwell”) is adorable.
Also the superb “cast of 20”: David Sturzaker (as the King), Sarah Woodward (as the King’s spitting-mad Portuguese wife Queen Catherine and Nell’s gin-soaked mother), Sasha Waddell (as two of the King’s other mistresses), Jay Taylor (as Nell’s acting mentor and lover Charles Hart), Greg Haiste (as Edward Kynaston, who Nell Gwynn displaced as the playhouse’s female lead) and Michele Dotrice (as dresser and unwilling bit player Nancy).
The production is designed by Hugh Durrant and choreographed by Charlotte Broom, with infectiously catchy music by Nigel Hess (you’ll be humming “I can sing and I can dance” for ages afterward).
Happily, the critics agree with me on this one, with several five- and four-star raves today. I’ve gathered the overnight verdicts below, as well as recent interviews with Arterton.