Five-, four- and three-star pro reviews greeted the Shakespeare’s Globe production of Jessica Swale’s Nell Gwynn on transfer to the Apollo, Shaftesbury Avenue. Miriam Gillinson (Time Out) acknowledged “plenty of gags… a lot of love for the theatre” and a “strong feminist angle” and Holly Williams (Independent) found it “ripe and juicy… broad and bawdy”.
Gillinson described, “Globe trademarks” like “heaps of live music” and “countless sly winks to the audience” but thought its “persistent jolliness… slightly grates in the closer confines.” But Libby Purves (TheatreCat) felt it “works better here… it feels more intimate” with the whole audience “able to enjoy the glances, grins, flounces and double-takes”. She described “a Restoration riot… gorgeously set in courtly gold tassels, velvet and…tacky backstage paraphernalia.” Fiona Mountford (ES) found it “still larger than life… rumbustious, jokey and joyous with great running gags,” said Christopher Luscombe’s “ebullient production… sweeps us up from the start in a blissful whirl of theatricals” and was among those enjoying “some ripe comic ditties from Nigel Hess”.
Williams, who initially found new lead Gemma Arterton’s “simpering Cockney accent can grate” warmed to a “lovely Nell” with a “softness” that makes “filthy ditties and practical jokes seem cutely cheeky”. Gillinson found her “luminously lascivious” performance “charming as hell” and the scene in which she first tries acting “a proper joy”. Purves thought it “her best stage role yet” finding her “sexy and mischievous, light as a feather and nonpareil at delivering a truly dirty song” yet also able to “expose vulnerability and seriousness”.
Mountford praised “sterling support” from Michele Dotrice as Nell’s “stout and doughty” dresser-cum-understudy. Williams reported “comic timing” which “reliably slays the audience” and Purves found her performance “pure delight”. Williams enjoyed David Sturzaker’s reprise of his “saucy” Charles II. Purves observed “a nice edge of vulnerability” and Williams noted: “They’re shown as properly in love”. Purves was among those welcoming back Greg Haiste’s “queeny Kynaston, jealously guarding the female lead roles”. Gillinson called his “flouncing” performance “a treat” and Mountford declared him “wonderful”.
She found the whole “jolly-making… gently tongue-in-cheek” and concluded “How pleasing to see the ladies, from Swale to Ms Gwynn herself, leading the way”. Purves declared its “froth and bracing feminism” combined with “happy sentimental references to theatre itself… pure essence of fun”. Williams hailed “a populist, fluffy, but big-hearted show” directed “with extreme silliness” and Gillinson found it “goes down a treat”.