The Pleasance Theatre ranks as one of the friendliest fringe venues that I know, a spirit which is echoed in the way in which they programme many of the 400 plus shows that they take up to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August. In the run-up to the festival their London home plays host to many emerging theatre companies for one night only slots, to see how companies with aspirations of getting to Edinburgh sink or swim in front of an audience.
One such play gracing the stage for their live audition is Nell Gwyn: An Epilogue. By her own admission, Nell Gwyn is an actress and a prostitute – terms which in Nell’s lexicon are interchangeable. In her more respectable profession as an actress, Nell is tired of playing ‘poor Valeria’ in one of John Dryden’s tragedies. Nell’s main qualm appears to be that one of her best assets – ‘her shapely legs’ – are concealed beneath a floor-length muslin gown. A sprightly young Nell (Lucy Formby) would much rather being playing more saucy, comedic roles with costumes that showcase her legs in all of their glory.
Enlisting the help of a bashful audience member to help disrobe her, Nell is able to slip into something a little more comfortable. This self professed ‘darling strumpet of the crowd’ tries to strike a balance between courtesan and comedienne. Flirtatious to the nth degree, Nell launches herself onto the laps of unsuspecting audience members: Formby’s vixen-esque nature seems to revel in the way in which the men plucked from the crowd coyly squirm uncomfortably. Willing to do anything to entertain the crowd, Nell buoyantly erupts into a merry jig as she gleefully frolics around the space. Formby has a cheeky glint in her eye and her endearing nature as a cockney strumpet shines in this one-woman show.
A sassy Nell has aspirations of parading her talents in King Charles II’s bed, as his mistress. In this charming work, Nell recounts her antics and escapades with real gusto, however with only reluctant audience members to bounce off, this epilogue falls a little flat. I think that it could benefit from a few more actors and a more tangible narrative thread.
At present Nell Gwyn: An Epilogue is sweet and fun but overall the work fails to leave a lasting impression. I do hope Nell Gwyn: An Epilogue makes it to the Fringe this year, as I think with a few minor tweaks and revisions, these early seeds of potential, would have the chance to blossom into a great piece of comedic theatre.
Nell Gwyn: An Epilogue played The Pleasance on 16 January.