JESSICA Swale’s first play, which opened in 2013, is now required reading on the GCSE drama syllabus. Had this follow-up effort been written by one of those GCSE students, its lack of sensuality, depth or character development would be more excusable.
Laura Pitt-Pulford (Nell Gwynn) is a very fine actress, technically strong and blessed with natural charm and gaiety as well as comic timing. If the text allowed her to deliver jokes stronger than the occasional Brexit sideswipe or Viz-magazine innuendo, an incomprehensibly warm Theatre Royal audience might really have been given something to guffaw over.
But both she and the script lacked the earthy sensuality which might explain why a risk-averse monarch became almost inseparable from this upstart strumpet showgirl when he had his pick of the crown princesses of Europe. She is too tomboyish, the duologues too passionless.
Restoration drama is some of the lustiest and most vital in the English canon and the lack of that energy in a play half set in the lives of those players is a terrible missed opportunity. There are brief moments, especially when Pepter Lunkuse (Rose Gwynn) brings tragic news from home to impinge upon Nell’s charmed life at court, when we get a glimpse of what this company and this tale might have brought us.