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Review of Nell Gwynn from the Bedford Drama Company at The Place Theatre, Bedford

Last year I saw the University of Northampton BA Actors perform Blue Stockings, an emotive and highly powerful play from Jessica Swale. I was that impressed by both the play and performances that a couple of days later I returned to see it again. Therefore when Nell Gwynn by that very same writer popped up on my Facebook status of a planned trip to see the play from a group of Masque Theatre folk, I conspired my way into a car to Bedford.

Nell Gwynn is I have to say, from the outset, not as strong a play as Blue Stockings, it doesn't have the emotional impact and many of the characters do not get the expansion and depth as those of Stockings. However as that is such a stonker, it doesn't mean that this is poor play. It is actually a wonderfully entertaining take of Nell, one of the first female actors and more famous mistress of Charles II.

For an amateur production also with such a large cast, it also benefits from remarkable high quality of performance across the board. Not one of the performers flags up as anything other than putting true effort in and it generally comes across as a highly polished, professional feeling show.

There are of course star turns among them though. Michael Antoniou has tremendous fun, milking every moment from the hugely entertaining character of Edward Kynaston. Rightfully put out by the potential loss of his coveted women's roles. A scene stealer extraordinaire without any doubt. Another of the smaller excellent performances is that of Richard Duncombe as the King's adviser Lord Arlington. Stately, cold and cunningly played, he is superb.

However while everyone brings some quality to this production, two performances do standout in particular. The first (and the only actor I had seen before, in Masque productions) was Sam Burridge as leading actor Charles Hart. Even from early on in his educating exchanges with Nell, he absolutely nails the character. The playing to the audience carefully balanced between overplaying and realism. I loved the contrast between the bold performer of the early part, and the flattened, dispirited latter Hart as emotional distress makes its impact.

Top billing though, and unquestionably the top performer is that of Daisy Dunmill. Perfectly cast (and absolutely needing to be for the key titular role), Daisy is an endless delight whenever on stage. She gives for me one of the strongest solo performances I have seen for sometime in an amateur show. Solid emotion, crystal clear singing (as yes, there are a few very nice musical numbers in this play) and solid comic timing. She is at her best where sparing with Sam Burridge in the early scenes, and it is at times to the detriment of the play that there is less of the two of them together in the second act. However whenever Daisy is on stage, her confident flair makes the show much brighter as a result.

There is also a nice confident flair to the direction from Jenny Curzon, utilising every possible area of space on the stage as well as a total of five entrances. A couple of sticking points are the seemingly superfluous round pedestal which appears after the interval and serves little purpose and is removed swiftly before show end with Sam Burridge wheeling it away like a giant cheese. Also there is a bizarre moment, where a character commanded to fetch a physician, still seemingly even if the King is dying, manages to ensure that his croquet mallet and balls have been removed from the stage. Stage management taken to the extreme! Another minor note was the rather curious audience at times, I am all for applauding after little musical numbers (and pause were there for us to do so), however what was it with all the applause between scenes? I joined in for a bit in the first half, so as not to appear disrespectful, however by the second act, I was well out of it.

Excellent music is provided between scenes (when the clapping isn't drowning it out) and for the songs from the strong six piece band under the directorship of Tim Brewster (who manages to play three instruments himself during the show).


It all adds up to a glorious first visit to The Place Theatre, with a brilliantly written play again from Jessica Swale and a thoroughly well performed production. Bawdy and rude and often very funny, this was totally worth crossing the border to get to see.

Performance reviewed: Saturday 4th March, 2017 (matinee) at The Place Theatre, Bedford.

Nell Gwynn ran between Wednesday 1st to Saturday 4th March, 2017 at The Place Theatre, Bedford.

Details of the Bedford Drama Company can be found at http://bedforddramacompany.org.uk/, while The Place theatre details can be found at http://www.theplacebedford.org.uk/

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