Review: Colourful fun with wit and bite at the Loft in Leamington

Rachel Adams as Nell Gwynn
Rachel Adams as Nell Gwynn

Nick Le Mesurier reviews Nell Gwynn at the Loft Theatre, Leamington

If England’s defeat in the World Cup is getting you down, or if you’d been hoping Federer might make it to the Wimbledon finals, I can think of no better pick-me-up than the Loft’s new production of Jessica Swale’s hit comedy, Nell Gwynn. It’s big, it’s bright, it’s full of confidence, just like its heroine.

The play takes a very loose interpretation of Nell’s rise to fame, from orange seller to the King’s mistress via the Restoration stage. That she thrived in two ferociously competitive worlds is testimony to her talent, wit and drive. Rachel Adams has what it takes to bring her alive, and between the songs and the bawdy jokes she revealed a complex character, able to cope in a male dominated world. Her lover, the King is a mere puppy in her hands, arguably a little too much so in Sean Glock’s otherwise fine portrayal. Nevertheless, one could believe in their love.

The late 17th century was a time of optimism that was nowhere better reflected than on the London stage. Nell was an instant hit, charming the crowds and bringing in the bucks. There were rivalries, of course: Douglas Gilbey-Smith is a deliciously waspish rival actor, Edward Kynaston.

The show has a big cast, each of whom I could name, but I particularly liked Claire Bradwell as Miss Conception, who played a kind of one-woman chorus. She personified the cynicism of the age that lay just beneath the wigs and frills.

Some of the cast were making their debuts on stage, which bodes well for a company always at the top of their game.