Posts Tagged ‘Jessica Swale’

This was my sixth and last visit to The Globe this year, and my favourite. Playwright Jessica Swale follows her brilliant Blue Stockings, one of the best new plays staged here, with this hugely entertaining one about Charles II’s mistress.

We first meet sometime prostitute Nell as an orange seller. She is befriended by actor Charles Hart who offers her acting lessons and then suggests the King’s Company cast her, now women are allowed on stage, much to the consternation of their regular male leading lady, Edward Kynaston. Charles’ obsession with her begins with visits to see her perform but it’s not long before she’s doing private performances and is provided with a home and ultimately two children. The relationship lasted some 17 years and the play covers that whole period. What makes it so successful is its humour, cheeky, bawdy and irresistible.

I loved Hugh Durrant’s simple design – a few giant gold tassels and plush curtains (most of it takes place in a 17th century playhouse after all) and superb costumes. The play really suits the Globe stage. Christopher Luscombe’s irreverent, nifty staging teases out great performances all around. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is sensational as Nell – feisty, sexy, cheeky – clearly relishing this terrific role. Greg Hastie is brilliant as Kynaston with a wonderful array of actorly strops and speeches about role motivation which bring the house down. Amanda Lawrence gives us another of her scene-stealing turns as Nell’s dresser Nancy and there are two delightful cameos from Sarah Woodward as Charles’ Portuguese queen and Nell’s mum (a performance one groundling with a beer in hand will never forget).

All hail la Swale. This was one of those joyous occasions that make The Globe unique and indispensable. Proper entertainment. Go!

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Just like the timeliness of The Pride (given events in Russia), this is timely too, with Middle Eastern & Central Asian attitudes to women’s education still a hot issue. Lest we become complacent, though, it’s only 65 years since women were allowed to graduate from Cambridge University, the subject of this play, set another fifty years before that. Jessica Swale, in her playwriting debut, has managed to produced a serious, well researched piece that has a light enough touch to be thoroughly entertaining too.

When you hear the attitudes of educated men to the new, late 19th century, initiatives of Girton College, you gasp. Phrases like ‘women belong in the kitchen’ are bandied around by a bunch of dinosaurs intent on keeping them in their place – a bit like the Taliban, really. The play is set at a time when the university senate is to vote on changing things so that women can graduate, as the opposition grows and moves outside the university establishment itself.

Though it handles a serious (and little known) subject well, it also has a very human side, much humour and music & movement which sits comfortably within its structure. It’s well paced in John Dove’s sprightly production and somehow suits the Globe very well, both in terms of period and setting. I think it’s one of the best new pays staged here.

Shakespeare’s Globe really is stretching itself this year, with six of the Bard’s plays, four international visitors and three new works, of which this is one, and it’s proving its versatility and popularity with a full house of predominantly young theatre-goers last night. Catch it if you can.

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