THEATRE REVIEW: Playhouse Creatures by April De Angelis – The New Vic Theatre
7 February 2018 Theatre
Most people will have at least heard of Nell Gwynne, the seventeenth orange seller who became the mistress of King Charles II. Not many people will know that she was also an actress who was one of the first women to work professionally on the English stage.
It is in this role that she features in the latest production at the New Vic Theatre, “Playhouse Creatures” a 1993 play written by April De Angelis. The play features the lives of a group of actresses as they perform in the early years of the Restoration, a time when seeing women on stage was very much a novelty.
Billed as a bawdy comedy it fits easily into a programme of works at the New Vic which celebrates the centenary of women’s suffrage in 2018.
Nell, (Hannah Edwards) joins a troupe of performers led by Mrs Betterton (Polly Lister) along with Mrs Marshall (Danielle Henry) and Mrs Farley (Rebecca Brewer) . They are looked after by the elderly Doll Common (Anna Kirke) who can remember when the theatre building was a bear pit at which the public came to gawp.
That fact is one of the central features of the play, as the public now come to gawp at women on the stage, a new phenomenon. These women also need to be young, as Mrs Betterton discovers, as she is sacked by her own husband, who runs the theatre troupe, when he deems her to be too old to perform. Polly Lister is excellent as the aging actress, as she tries to pass on her knowledge to the younger women, something that Nell decides she no longer needs once she becomes the mistress of the king.
Throughout the play the women try to achieve their independence as Nell and the others attempt to become partners or shareholders in the company but the end result is that their success is very limited. They still depend on the men in their lives, and those men continue to control them.
Nell is seduced by the riches that the king offers her as his mistress, Mrs Marshall is forced into exile as she is threatened by her previous “ benefactor” and Mrs Farley falls pregnant with tragic results.
As Nell, Hannah Edwards brings a street wise charm to the role and Anna Kirke brings great comic timing to the role of Doll.
This is Zoe Waterman’s first production as Associate Director of the New Vic and she is well supported as ever, by the set design of Lis Evans which takes the audience straight back to 1663.
This is certainly a production which gets the audience to think about the roles of the genders and how, despite the three hundred year time gap, maybe those roles haven’t changed that much over those years.
“Playhouse Creatures” runs at the New Vic Theatre until Saturday, February 24th and is directed by Zoe Waterman.
Telephone the box office for tickets on 01782 717962 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Ian Corbishley- Hitmix Radio
Photographs by Andrew Billington