Review: Nell Gwynn, Captive Audience Community Theatre

Larry Waller admits he likes a challenge and he certainly took one on when he decided to stage Nell Gwynn at the Strutts Community Centre, in Belper,  with a relatively new theatre company,  Captive Audience.

As the director says the drama has a big cast, music and songs so it was never going to be easy but, with a team carefully chosen from some of the best amateur actors and backstage operators in the region, he pulled it off.

It was the script that attracted Waller to Jessica Swale’s play and there is no denying that it is packed with bawdy gags and irreverent humour which would always have us all rolling about in the aisles but it is also a play which I suspect is one very much aimed at those with a deep love of theatre, just like Waller and his team.

Nell Gwynn charts the rise of an unlikely heroine, from her roots as a orange selling hawker in Coal Yard Alley to her success as Britain’s most celebrated actress, and adviser, loved mistress and political influencer to the King of England. 

However the play is as much about life in the theatre in the 17th century as it is anything else, and at times for me this rather got in the way of the rags-to-riches tale. 

I would have quite liked the whistlestop journey through the life of Nell Gwynn to have been a little swifter.

As Nell, Megan Gibson was a star, she knew just how to switch from saucy to demure, could sing and dance, was warm and likeable and enjoyed courting laughs from the crowd. The only thing she should have made more of was her solo bow to the audience at the very end.

As her Royal paramour King Charles II, Luke Barrett was unquestionably entertaining. It was a part which could take extravagant acting but maybe he took it a bit too far and at times it was like watching Russell Brand playing a pantomime Baron Hardup. Brilliantly funny though. He and Megan played off each other well.

Also standing out in a more than capable cast were Sheila Kay Sly as Nancy, Nell’s dresser; Keren Adler as Nell’s sister Rose and Kay Swann as Old Ma Gwynn.

The rest of the cast were Nick Evison, Josh Kay Sly, Ben Turner, Sophie Waller, Sarah Holme, Dan Skidmore, Terry Stevenson, Henry Stubbs, Victoria Fernandes, George Comber, Harriet Swann, Hermione Swann, and Solomon Thomas. The creative team were Susan Stevenson, Lucy Hassall, Tracy Comber, Andy Mayers, Caroline Hawley, Jamie Vella and Tony Stott.

The play, which is part of the Belper Arts Festival can be seen at Strutts Centre, Belper, this evening at 7.30pm.