Tag Archives: Sarah Woodward

“Nell Gwynn” at the Apollo Theatre

Historical romps are not uncommon on the British stage. And the theatre loves referencing itself. Combining the two, with the story of 17th-century actress-turned-courtier Nell Gwynn, makes sense and provides a hit for playwright Jessica Swale. There’s plenty of fun from Gwynn’s love affair with King Charles II, while John Dryden’s hastily scribed plays add a touch of behind-the-scenes Noises Off style laughs. Having started at Shakespeare’s Globe, this show retains the venue’s vibe, pleasing the crowd with great gags and catchy tunes. No time for stuffiness here – this is a terrific night out.

Gemma Arterton’s performance in the title role is a joy. She’s cheeky, chirpy and utterly charming. Easily carrying Swale’s pointed remarks on women in the theatre and making the risqué comedy look effortless, Arterton proves a queen of innuendo. There are superb cameos from Sarah Woodward and Sasha Waddell as the other women in Charles’ life – both suitably overblown and over-painted – but the glorious Michele Dotrice steals every scene as Nell’s dresser, bringing the house down with a single salutation to the King and getting more laughs out of playing a triangle than you’d have thought possible.

Michele Dotrice
Michele Dotrice

There are men in the play, too and it’s satisfying that for once they take a back seat. Greg Haiste has the best lines as the actor who used to perform women’s roles before those “actor-esses” came along. And there’s a fine turn from David Sturzaker as Charles, who gracefully allows himself to be upstaged by a dog. The chemistry between the King and his mistress is down to the performances and builds touchingly. And yet it’s only fitting that the irresistible Arterton grabs our main attention. As for demanding better parts for women, condemning Shakespeare’s Juliet as a “noodle”, the play provides its own irrefutable answer.

David Sturzaker
David Sturzaker

A lot of Swale’s script should really be too downright silly to work. The comedy is as broad as a pantomime and historical references land with a bang that I presume is designed to pop any pomposity. More seriously, attempts to give the characters depth – let’s make the merry Monarch melancholy – are ham-fisted. Subtle it ain’t, but it works. And in spectacular fashion, with direction from Christopher Luscombe powering the play along and a series of performances that rocket the piece into the comic stratosphere.

Until 30 April 2016

www.nimaxtheatres.com

Photos by Tristram Kenton

“Richard II” at Shakespeare’s Globe

While The Merchant of Venice quote, handily emblazoned on tote bags in the Globe’s shop, tells us “all that glisters is not gold”, the theatre’s new production of Richard II is a solid 24-carat affair. Shakespeare’s deposed king is often presented as a star vehicle, but director Simon Godwin provides a carefully crafted ensemble piece that gives every character their due and is all the better for doing so.

Which is not to say that Charles Edwards isn’t magnificent in the title role. Against the golden backdrop of Paul Wills’ set and accompanied by Stephen Warbeck’s impressive score for trombones, Edwards strikes a suave figure. But it doesn’t take long to see a delusional aspect to this infantile King, set up by a prologue scene of his childhood coronation. In an admirably understated performance, especially during his imprisonment, Edwards shows this hollow crown is unhinged and tarnished by religious fervour.

The impact Richard’s divine right to rule has on society is highlighted by the luckless Aumerle, a role that Graham Butler gets a great deal from. One of Richard’s “caterpillar” sycophants, then betrayers, like his ruler, he seems strangely juvenile. One reservation: in this serious show, Godwin introduces humour into the scene of Aumerle’s treachery. While the text suggests jokes and the piece allows William Chubb and Sarah Woodward to shine as the Yorks, surely going all out for laughs is a misfire.

Much better are the muddled motivations of Richard’s courtiers. Godwin creates a sense of unprecedented events unfolding – with Chubb, again excellent, as a conflicted Regent and a superbly sinister Northumberland played by Jonny Glynn. Even the gardening scene, which I always think should be pruned, is handled well, using the audience in the complicit manner that directors at the Globe can seldom resist.

Godwin’s usurping Bolingbroke is a relatively complex figure, suggesting that events might have overtaken a once loyal subject. David Sturzaker gives a sterling performance in this strangely opaque role; a virile presence, we see the politician but also an emotional intensity that adds a layer to a play so much about surface presentation. Underlying the production’s traditional feel and gorgeous look is a satisfyingly intelligent assessment of the play’s themes.

Until 18 October 2015

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photo by Johan Persson

“Snake In The Grass” at the Print Room

For their second production at London’s new theatre, The Print Room, artistic directors Lucy Bailey and Anda Winters have chosen Alan Ayckbourn’s 2002 play Snake in the Grass. It’s a delightfully dark romp involving murder and a haunted tennis court, and the strength of this production confirms that London has an unmissable new venue on its cultural scene.

Bailey directs and deals with Ayckbourn’s black humour in a speedy, efficient fashion; she gets the laughs and spends time on the moving revelations that haunt the characters and give the play its real bite. With the audience sitting like spectators on either side of William Dudley’s spectral, derelict tennis court we are ready to watch a deadly game.

And the cast is equally compelling. Susan Wooldridge plays Annabel. Returning to the UK upon the death of her father, she has to deal with blackmail and an estranged sister who “accidentally” overdosed her father and pushed him down the stairs. Wooldridge is utterly convincing as a disappointed, yet practical woman. When she deals with her sister Miriam’s distress by waving a conciliatory handkerchief as if to shoo her away, you can tell that every movement in this performance is under control.

Sarah Woodward takes on messed-up Miriam with similar intelligence. Described as the gentlest of creatures but also criminally stupid, nobody really knows Miriam and Woodward plays her character mercurially. As for the blackmailer, Mossie Smith’s Alice is delicious to watch as she threatens the sisters and suggests their plans to move to Fulham be abandoned in favour of a caravan park!

Snake in the Grass isn’t just one for the die-hard Ayckbourn fans. With Bailey’s fantastic production getting the most out of the play, it’s game, set and match to The Print Room.

Until 5 March 2011

www.the-print-room.org

Photo by Sheila Burnett

Written 15 February 2011 for The London Magazine