A Comedic Masterpiece: NELL GWYNN at the Apollo

I was dying to see Nell Gwynn when it started its life at the Globe with a week of performances. Fast forward a few months and Nell Gwynn has managed to find itself a new life at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue in a colourful new production starring Olivier Award-nominee Gemma Arterton. It's a lavish, vivid and hilarious new play which takes an old, true story and pumps fresh air in to it to make it something new.

The story itself follows one of the stage's first actresses, Nell Gwynn. Our story opens with Gwynn as an orange seller, watching in on famous actor Charles Hart rehearsing in his new play. He quickly sees the potential that Nell has and throws her into rehearsals, before instating her as the first stage actress in his theatre company. Her infamous affair with King Charles II comes to fruition and it starts to go awry, but Gwynn manages to find her way back to her calling at the end of the day with a happy song and dance. It's a story that could easily be dark and dingy, but Jessica Swale has crafted a piece of comic beauty in the shape of this new play and it's refreshing to see. It's a funny book paired with uplifting songs and speeches with a wonderful ensemble cast that really make this show what it is: fun.

Gemma Arterton shines as Nell Gwynn at the very heart of the play. Sure, up against heavyweights like Denise Gough at the Olivier's this year she isn't likely to be taking the trophy home, but it's a nod that is very well deserved for a performance such as hers. She is not only funny but likeable and relatable and her stage presence as a successful actress mirrors Gwynn's success perfectly. Michele Dotrice also gives a standout performance as Nancy (a role she's been nominated for an Olivier for), the lady who basically seems to run everything backstage with the theatre company. Every word that comes out of her mouth is laugh out loud funny and when she finally has to become an actress for a short while - well, I'll let you be the judge of how funny that scene is!

The visual aspect of this show is something that needs to be discussed as well. When you first take your seat, you're greeted with this grand and luscious looking set left on the stage. It's not so grand that it's imposing, though: it almost feels as though it's a pantomime's backdrop and it really works for what the show is. It is a relatable show for the audience and they're really pushing that forwards in this production. The costumes, on the other hand, are truly big and beautiful. As I'm sure you can see from the image above, they are exactly what you want that period to provide you with when it comes to costume and it makes the experience all the more immersive.

Nell Gwynn at the Apollo Theatre really isn't a show to be missed. It's the kind of comedy that only comes along once in a blue moon and everything from the script to the cast is sublime. A fantastic night with comedy in the West End and I cannot wait to see the next piece of gold that Jessica Swale takes to the stage.

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