Still playing a bit of theatrical catch up here with those shows that might appear to tickle our peculiar fancies.
So it seemed Jessica Swale‘s Nell Gwynn a broad, camp, comedic, backstage-with-royal-patronage tale of big frocks and massive millinery, a bit of cross-dressing and based on historical fact looked as if it might tickle and tick all our boxes. And it might have ticked big time if that other broad, camp, comedic, backstage-with-royal-patronage tale of big frocks and massive millinery, a bit of cross-dressing and based on historical fact, Mr Foote’s Other Leg hadn’t got to us first.
Not that there’s not fun to be had. Gemma Arterton sparkles in the title role with oodles of charismatic flirtatiousness to make us believe that her tart-turned-orange-seller who became one of the first actresses (ah, those were the days when we could still call them actresses) went on to turn the King’s head thus becoming his mistress.
David Sturzaker is splendid as Charles II, both keeping his head (unlike his father) and presumably receiving it too. So too Greg Haiste, hysterically fraught as Edward Kynaston an actor specialising in the lady parts (on stage that is) who sees his trans-roles under threat, Jay Taylor as Charles Hart, first to spot Nell’s talents and nurture them, Sasha Waddell as two of the King’s other mistresses and the wonderful Michele Dotrice, coming into her own in Act 2 in a scene that serves the story little purpose at all really.
But some of the the Carry On style jokes only occasionally landed successfully for us. The entendre-led silliness is too often laboured and whilst there’s some humour in the knowing anachronistic references some of it falls flat (hold your hand up the extended Titanic film gag which sank faster than the ship). A song using commonly known French words might have been funny if Kenneth Williams hadn’t already done a similar thing years ago and much, much better.
Christopher Luscombe keeps the proceedings bustling along so there’s little time to dwell on the bits that don’t work so well and the story of Gwynn’s life is engagingly told. We may have found the scene when Nell spikes The King’s rival mistress’s cakes with laxatives unfunny, but it is based on a real incident apparently.
Bottom line: Boisterous fun and a live King Charles Spaniel, but some gags so lame they might be affected by Mr Osborne’s disability cuts.
Footnote And if you’ve never seen Kenneth Williams performing his party piece “Crepe Suzette” here it is. If you’ve seen it no doubt you’ll want to see it again anyway.