Reviews

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"An absolute peach of a part for a young actress."

Image credit: Chris Wightman CC-BY

Review of 'Nell Gwyn: An Epilogue'

by Mark 'Divine' Calvert (Mumble.Net)

Sweet Grassmarket, Edinburgh: 12/08/15

★★★★★

“Mesmerising her audience… She held us in the palm of her beautiful hand.”

“Totally captivating”

“Dynamite talent… I have seldom experienced such brilliance.”

I hastened my pace as the afternoon rain started to fall. Luckily I had just purchased a new umbrella to match my outfit. So the water falling miraculously from the clouds didnae bother me too much. This was my first experience of this charming theatre, part of the Apex Hotel in the Grassmarket: a very plush venue indeed. With a friendliness that was warming, I knew this was going to be a good thing. I could already feel it. The whole day was going my way. Being a little early, I took advantage of the cheese and tuna ciabatta with a cappuccino for four quid. It was lovely and a bargain. Divine approves.

Then we got our calling… it was time to meet Nell Gwyn. Up until today I had no idea who she was, so I did a bit of research beforehand, discovering she was the one-time Mistress of King Charles II of England and Scotland. Called “pretty, witty Nell” by Samuel Pepys, she has been regarded as a living embodiment of the spirit of Restoration England; a folk heroine with a story echoing the rags-to-royalty tale of Cinderella. This most famous Restoration actress possessed a most prodigious comic talent, & sired two sons by her royal lover: Charles and James Beauclerk, pronounced ‘Bo-Clare’. ‘Wow,’ I thought, ‘this performance has a lot to live up to.’ I loved Nell Gwyn already. She was Divine’s kind of Girl.

On entering into the funeral parlour of Ms Gwyn, the first miracle took place. Her perfectly pretty face with painted red lips, came alive and woosh! she sprang to life, mesmerising her audience in an instant with a perfectly cohesive Olde English period language that held ones attention to the max. She held us in the palm of her beautiful hand. The actress embodied the spirit of Nell Gwyn to perfection and gave us a one-woman History lesson. The trials and tribulations of being the exceptionally attractive and entertaining lover to the monarch of the time. Good Time!

This little Lady was one dynamite talent. The acting was never short of genius, even her tears were real. Now this was a Divine first. Wow. Just Wow. Lucy Formby is the Genius that brought this important Historical Lady to life and fully into our consciousness this afternoon. I have seldom experienced such brilliance. With support from Writer and Producer Laura Ingram, this made for a winning performance that was educational, enthralling, totally captivating, sensual and very entertaining indeed. It’s a bit like when you see a band on the rise. One just knows. When you know, You Know. You Know.

After the performance I waited to congratulate Lucy Formby and Laura Ingram on such a piece of brilliance. Miss Formby is going to be an international star. Mark my words. Divine is never wrong about such matters. Just before I left, I thanked Miss Formby once again. To be honest I was a bit star-struck. That was a much needed insight. I cannae recommend this performance more highly. I explained that if I could get the Mumble to create a new 6th Star category. It would have been created for Nell Gwyn. So Without Any Hesitation FIVE STARS

Review of 'Nell Gwyn: An Epilogue'

by Jane Bristow Fringe Guru

Sweet Grassmarket, Edinburgh: 15/08/15

★★★★

“A sparkling, frequently funny, and thoroughly bawdy romp.”

“A brave piece with Lucy Formby gamely rising to the challenge.”

“It was hard to resist Nell’s earthy charm and the audience clearly relished the performance.”

“This is no mere tart-with-a-heart piece – she’s got a brain too."

Nell Gwyn: An Epilogue is a sparkling, frequently funny, and thoroughly bawdy romp that brings the seventeenth century alive – no mean feat when you’re performing in a hotel function room. It’s a captivating and unusual performance, with Lucy Formby starring as one of the most famous royal mistresses, the witty orange-seller and actress Nell Gwyn.

Nell plays up to the audience as they hear snippets of her life, beginning by prancing round the stage demanding to know if people like her legs. She’s performing the role of the chaste St Catherine on stage, and is not happy about being cast as a saint – particularly when her lover Charles II is coming to the performance. It’s a theme that she returns to at intervals, at one point begging an unsuspecting Dryden, who’s actually just a member of the audience, to write her something witty instead. Other topics covered include her former lover Charles Hart, the contrast between herself and the Queen, and her rival Moll Davies (who she worries has “out Nellied me”).

There’s a feminist undertone as she rebels against passive stage roles where she’s either dead, naked, or generally tragic. One of the strengths of the play is that beneath the mischievous audience interaction and jokes about her “paps” and “cunny”, the writing still gives Nell depth as she dreams of making the leap from whore to bona fide mistress. It’s a brave piece with Lucy Formby gamely rising to the challenge of playing the charming exhibitionist – a particular triumph in such a small and intimate space.

For some, the use of period language may be an issue. It does take a little concentration to follow, but for me it really added to the colour of the piece. The set is non-existent – but driven by the sheer exuberance of Lucy Formby’s Nell, and a good costume, this manages not be an issue. Indeed, it focuses attention on the words and acting; entirely appropriate for someone who made a career out of attracting attention.

It was hard to resist Nell’s earthy charm and the audience clearly relished the performance. Nell Gwyn as created by Laura Ingram is lively, sometimes racy, but always enjoyable. This is no mere tart-with-a-heart piece – she’s got a brain too.

Review of 'Nell Gwyn: An Epilogue'

by Kate Saffin (Fringe Review and Female Arts)

Sweet Grassmarket, Edinburgh: 14/08/15

★★★★ Female Arts

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: Fringe Review

“This is a delightful play which will whisk you to the 17th century, entertain you royally and send you on your way with a sweetmeat.”

"An endearing and vivacious character who holds our attention for the hour long show with ease.”

A tiny venue with the seating in the round. There is corpse on the floor, encased in white. After a moment the corpse bounces up and asks ‘do you like my legs?’, then springs to her feet and asks again ‘ do you like my legs?’. She becomes quite insistent as she works her way round the audience.

It is June 1669 and nineteen year old Nell Gwyn is celebrated for her comic acting, particularly when she gets to dress as a boy and show off her legs. However, Charles Hart, her manager and former lover, keeps casting her in tragic roles to embarrass her in front of her new amour, Charles II. Nell fears that if she cannot be her lively, sexy, comic self the King will lose interest in her. She conspires with the audience in the pit to concoct a plan win Hart round and consolidate her role as comedienne and courtesan. And it is a matter of urgency as the King is showing interest elsewhere. Nell makes no secret of being a whore, is in fact very proud of it, although she would like to progress to the new role recently arrived from France, that of mistress.

Laura Ingram has written an endearing and vivacious character who holds our attention for the hour long show with ease. Lucy Formby as Nell confides in us, moving smoothly between a moment of confidence in the ear of an audience member to declaiming part of the tragedy that Hart has cast her in. The language is that of the period and could easily become monotonous but Formby delivers the text in an appealing and natural manner. She varies the pace and emphasis and my attention never wandered. There are several other characters – some played by Nell, others by the audience. One is cast and addressed as Mr Dryden the playwright, another as ‘My Lord Buckingham’, and yet another as Nell’s dresser, or perhaps more accurately, her undresser. However, Formby is also sensitive to the audience and seems able to spot those who will be comfortable with being addressed directly, or being enticed on stage to undo her stays.

For all that is a comedy and Nell no martyr there are also echoes of issues that still concern theatre now – the lack of parts for women (despite the fact that Charles II passed a law shortly after his restoration that women’s parts must be played by women) and their short life upon the stage ‘my person and my wit my only dowry are… a dowry that does not augment with age’ whereas the men, Charles Hart in particular ‘does grow in dignity with ev’ry year that’s passed, and I’ll own the weighty parts do suit him well of late’.

There is no set beyond a couple of stools set among the audience and a basket of oranges and sweetmeats leaving Nell to use the compact space to full effect by simply creating the pictures for us.

Having died dramatically there is a lull before Nell reappears to deliver her final epilogue – the reason is a costume moment but it feels a little too long and, being near the end of the play, left the audience wondering if it was the end. It also affects the pace which has bowled along until then. If that off stage time could be trimmed it would sharpen the end of the play.

Overall, this is a delightful play which will whisk you to the 17th century, entertain you royally and send you on your way with a sweetmeat.

Review of 'Nell Gwyn: An Epilogue'

by Steven McCrystal (The Outlier)

Sweet Grassmarket, Edinburgh: 21/08/15

I’m still blushing from this salacious romp through 1650’s wench philosophy. An intimate show in an intimate venue with an intimate look at Nell’s ankles, calves, thighs, toosh, and other parts best left unmentioned. Some people don’t know where to look!
Lucy Formby’s performance personified Nell Gwyn’s rise through the ranks of society from lowly whore; to actress, to King’s mistress, and King’s child bearer. Gwyn appears before you, and perhaps even right there on your lap if you’re lucky. Some uncomfortable bodies shifted as jealous ladies began to regret bringing their partners. Lucy Formby commanded their hearts as they became uneasy in her sensuality as she gazed into their eyes with a smile.
This charismatic one-woman take on the 1650’s courtesan Nell Gwyn captivated even the jealous girlfriends. It ends with a twist. Upon its conclusion my mind wandered onto the darker side of the narrative: How many men?

Review of 'Nell Gwyn: An Epilogue'

by Jon Wainwright (The Public Reviews)

Sweet Grassmarket, Edinburgh: 10/08/15

★★★1/2

“A sustained and sassy one-woman show.”

Nell Gwyn is not shy about her paps, but she won’t let any old man cop a feel. Even dukes must wait their turn. Only the King has the privilege of disrobing Nell, and there’s only one king, just as there’s only one Nell. Lucy Formby captures the vivacity of one of the first English actresses, capable of commanding the pit with a wink, the house with a nod, and her future on her back. It’s a sustained and sassy one-woman show.

She doesn’t get things all her own way. There’s the perennial difficulty of finding the right parts. The tragedies John Dryden churns out don’t suit her talents, and send the King to sleep. He likes a laugh as much as she does, and he evidently enjoys lying between her thighs as much as she likes bestowing her cunny on a king.

She discards the tragic toga to better show off her assets (she’s especially proud of her “linen-swathed” legs). With the help of an accomplice, she demands “unleash me, unshroud me” and he unties the many strings of her corset. She also ropes in (literally) another member of the audience, and provides some impromptu catching practice as she hurls her large and juicy oranges around.
She also has to see off the competition, getting antsy when Moll comes on the scene and out-Nellies Nell. But she’s a confident performer: hers is “a nightly feast, not a cloying treat”. Moll may have one hand in her sugar plums and the other on the King’s, but Nell can dance a mean jig.

The venue is in the round and small, and Formby’s polished performance creates an engaging intimacy, as if she is confiding her life story from orange girl to actress and royal mistress to each one of us in turn.

Runs until 30th August 2015

Review of 'Nell Gwyn: An Epilogue'

by Robert James Peacock

Discover21, Edinburgh: 07/04/14

★★★★

"Brash and bawdy period piece"

"Short and fun-packed, like Nell herself"

Nell Gwyn was King Charles II's most famous mistress and this new play at Discover 21 is her story, told in the first person. It is billed beforehand as being a script-in-hand work-in-progress, but young Lucy Formby who plays the role already seems fully at ease with the piece, playing saucy Nell with humour and relish. Innuendos pop up throughout and Nelly treats the males on the front row to some of her less-than-subtle seduction techniques, to their obvious discomfort.

The language of the Restoration means it is sometimes easy to lose the thread, but the bawdiness and robust humour of that era come across well. It's also clear to see the piece has been well researched and written with affection for the subject matter. With historical authenticity, John Dryden's play, "Tyrannick Love", in which Nell starred, has been chosen as the vehicle for Nell to tell her story. She has been cast in Dryden's work as a suicidal lover, a vulnerable spurned woman completely at odds with Nelly herself. This sets her off reflecting on her relationship with the king, revealing plots to humiliate love rivals, bear the king's bastards and set herself up financially. We, the audience, are the lords and ladies in attendance at the theatre that night, and Nell is eager for us to be party to her inner scheming. It's here we get a sense of the charm and wit of the girl, and see how a low-born actress could talk her way into the bed of a king.

"We get a sense of the charm and wit of the girl, and see how a low-born actress could talk her way into the bed of a king"

I wish I knew the Dryden play, or could follow Nell's storytelling more closely, because somewhere between the seventeenth century language and my ignorance about the period, I do feel I'm missing something. Nevertheless, the characterisation is excellent and there are some great flourishes of wit from Nell such as when she claims that being "a mistress" is a "new-fangled French invention". At around an hour in length, this is short and fun-packed, much like Nell Gwyn herself.

Originally published on Remote Goat.

"An absolute peach of a part for a young actress."

Restoration Comedy @17thcenturyplay