The Restoration of Nell Gwyn

Theatre, Fringe
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 (© Anthony Robling)
1/4
© Anthony Robling

Elizabeth Mansfield and Angela Curran in 'The Restoration of Nell Gwyn' at Park Theatre.

 (© Anthony Robling)
2/4
© Anthony Robling

Elizabeth Mansfield and Angela Curran in 'The Restoration of Nell Gwyn' at Park Theatre.

 (© Anthony Robling)
3/4
© Anthony Robling

Elizabeth Mansfield and Angela Curran in 'The Restoration of Nell Gwyn' at Park Theatre.

 (© Anthony Robling)
4/4
© Anthony Robling

Elizabeth Mansfield and Angela Curran in 'The Restoration of Nell Gwyn' at Park Theatre.

This tale of King Charles III’s mistress is every bit as bawdy as its West End counterpart.

Call it a restoration if you like, but there's no doubt that Charles II's most famous mistress has enjoyed a minor renaissance in her historical profile thanks to London's Theatreland recently. Jessica Swale's 'Nell Gwynn' was a hit at Shakespeare's Globe last year and recently transferred to the West End with Gemma Arterton in the lead role. A few miles north in a smaller, more unassuming corner of the capital, meanwhile, Steve Trafford's two-hander focuses on a lesser-known period of the legendary lady's life, albeit presented with humour every bit as bawdy as its upmarket counterpart.

A formidable shadow of tragedy looms over proceedings too, though, as we join a Ms Gwyn who has relinquished not just the extra 'n' in her surname, but her youth, if not her charisma. She's facing up to the prospect of life without the ailing King Charles, in whose court she fears she is now persona non grata. The orange-seller-made-good is now facing the prospect of breaking bad once again.

Elizabeth Mansfield plays the amusingly neurotic lead and Angela Curran her deadpan foil of a chambermaid, Margery. Even if Mansfield's cockney accent makes some unscheduled detours up the M40 towards the West Midlands and back, her beautiful singing voice is in fine fettle as she plucks on a mandolin and bemoans her fate with the help of a clutch of Henry Purcell songs from that era. The references to the plague (via Margery's backstory) and other such contemporary historical factors seem a little laboured at times, but then this play is recommended to GCSE students as a way of colouring in their knowledge of the Restoration era.

Ultimately, it's a celebration of one of history's great survivors (if only in reputation – she died at 37, a couple of years after Charles) and as such it's an amusing and lively new take on an old story.

BY: SARAH PEACH

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