The rags to riches story of Nell Gwynn is a fascinating one and one that is currently being played out at the Globe.
From prostitute to selling oranges at the theatre to finally stepping out onto the boards themselves and becoming the King’s mistress in the process, Nell was a pioneer for getting women on to the stage.
Her colourful story has been written by Jessica Swale for the Bankside theatre and a riotous romp it is too with laughs a plenty.
In it, Nell, played to the max by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, grows from a mouthy hawker to a statuesque and sophisticated mistress to King Charles II.
We see her rise to stardom on the stage thanks to her mentor and actor in the King’s Company Charles Hart whose eye she had caught whilst she was selling oranges.
It was not an easy start for her though not least because of an opposition to women on the stage – as displayed with great stubbornness by Greg Haiste’s hilarious portrayal of Edward Kynaston who having made a career out of playing a woman on stage realised the threat she posed. His stomping around the stage in indignation was one of the highlights of the piece.
As well as Mbatha-Raw and Haiste there are some other lovely performances, including from Amanda Lawrence as Nell’s old dresser Nancy who manages to steal several scenes, one in particular which brought the house down.
There are also a few digs at the establishment too – David Sturzaker’s Charles II gets a rousing cheer when he declares “Playhouses are a valuable national asset” as does David Rintoul’s Lord Arlington when he declares “down with austerity!”.
However, while it may be a crowd pleaser in many ways, for me it did over step the mark on more than a few occasions with often crass and coarse humour. At some points it bordered on panto.
That said there is much to recommend it and it is a rousing end to this current summer Globe season. Catch it while you can.
Nell Gwynn is on at the Globe, Bankside until October 17. Tickets cost from £5. Visit www.shakespearesglobe.com or call the box office on 020 7401 9919.