United Players, Jericho Arts Centre, until June 24th
My Two Pence
By Penny Warwick
Nell Gwynn is a relatively new play (2013) written by british playwright Jessica Swale and is the story of the titular character; her relationship with King Charles II, her love for theatre and the complications these conflicting pursuits. The thrust design of the stage and it's dressings are fantastic (bravo, Chris Bayne, Linda Begg and Frances Herzer), starting at the Playhouse in Drury Lane it successfully transitions to various locations with ease and evokes a feeling of the time and somehow defies the usually cold, stocky feeling of the Jericho Arts Centre. CS Fergusson- Vaux does a fantastic job with the costuming also, everyone matched well to their clothes and the authenticity of the lines was noticable, unfortunately (as seems to be a bit of a theme with Jericho shows) there is a real problem with the wigs, although fortunately not all.
The play itself has been very well directed by Adam Henderson. It is quick, bright and bouyant. The performers interact and weave into the audience at various points in the production, always with confidence. The dialogue bounces along at a delightful pace, and the comedic timing nailed throughout is an absolute joy to witness. As amateur theatre goes this is one of the most even casts I have watched in a while. The showstopping turn by Charlotte Wright as Nell is an easy highlight. Wright’s sensuality, brashness and (later) sensitivity circumvent the few wobbly moments we encounter along the way. Emmett Lee Stang’s dramatic entrance and musicality (and formidable cod-piece) are hard to forget. As Charles II, Marc LeBlanc manages to smoulder in ridiculousness. However for me, the killer duo of Brian Hinson and David C. Jones are the best part of this production. Both stalwarts of the Vancouver scene, these two are just brilliant. The ensemble singing is for the most part strong and having live music sprinkled throughout is lovely.
I was briefly brought out of the story during the scene in which Charles II is propositioning Nell and asks what she gets paid at the theatre, her castmate quickly chimes in six shillings (but not every show! And only if it’s full!!); it was at that moment I conciously noticed the size of the house, decent, and immediately considered what a shame it was that even as the characters lament the woeful pittance of their pay, the actors we see playing these roles are not being paid at all. The plague of the Vancouver Theatre scene, full houses and empty pockets. Considering Andree Karas’ pre-show announcement about the theatre reaching it's highest ever subscription base and being proud to pay it’s brilliant creatives, professional directors and show rights, I can’t help but hope that someday the actors will make it onto that list.
This is an evening well spent. Is Nell Gwynn the best acted performance I’ve seen? No. Is it the most musically perfect performance I’ve seen? No. Is it the best play I’ve seen? No. But, I had a bloody good time, and it seemed like the actors did too. Their energy and sheer joy was infectious. I am really glad I saw this production and I thoroughly recommend you do too.