THE COMPLEAT FEMALE STAGE BEAUTY: Jeffrey Hatcher.
Lakeside Arts Centre: Tkts 0115 846 7777 www.lakesidearts.org.uk
Touring Info from Mappa Mundi/Torch Theatre/Theatr Mwldan: 2h 20m: one interval.
Review: Alan Geary: 18th November 2013 at Lakeside Arts Centre.
The company’s best production for at least three years.
It’s 1662; the Civil War is over. The miserablists are out of favour; the good times are back. The Merry Monarch Charles II is on the throne – and theatres are open for business.
Since women are banned from the stage all female roles are played by men; the most celebrated actor in this field being Edward Kynaston (an outstanding Francois Pandolfo). But so that his mistress Nell Gwynn (Mali Tudno Jones) can take to the boards the King (Richard Nichols) lifts the bar on females.
The Compleat Female Stage Beauty is the story of Ned Kynaston’s consequent fall from celebrity – he’s reduced to waiting tables in a coffee house – and his eventual come-back acting male roles.
Plays about theatre are invariably interesting; this certainly is. It also explores the whole issue of maleness and femaleness. The Duke of Buckingham (Rhys Downing) is no longer attracted to Ned after his fall because all along he’d been enjoying going to bed, not with Ned himself, but with Desdemona and Ophelia. And Samuel Pepys (Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, who also directs) tells Ned he especially enjoys him playing women pretending to be men.
The whole thing places complex demands on the cast. Those playing declamatory actors have to show how the job spills over into their real-life manner; and all have to demonstrate the affectation of the period. Liam Tobin is super as actor/manager Tommy Betterton, and so, without exception, are the rest of the cast.
One of the most compelling scenes is when, after his return to the stage, Kynaston is playing Othello to Mrs Hughes’s (Lynne Seymour) Desdemona. He smothers her so realistically it seems that Mrs Hughes really has expired. But, in line with the King’s wish for a happier ending, Desdemona comes to life. It’s touching, and salutary, how the Shakespeare canon went healthily un-venerated at the time.
This is the best production from Theatr Myldan/Mappa Mundi for at least three years – the two previous, both Shakespeare plays, involved too much doubling up of parts. If there was any justice it would be seen at more and bigger venues.
Edward Kynaston: Francois Pandolfo.
Margaret Hughes: Lynne Seymour.
Maria: Elin Phillips.
Thomas Betterton: Liam Tobin.
Charles II: Richard Nichols.
Nell Gwynn: Mali Tudno Jones.
Samuel Pepys: Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones.
Duke of Buckingham: Rhys Downing.
Sir Charles Sedley: Keiron Self.
Lady Mersesvale: Polly Kilpatrick.
Director/Designer: Lloyd Llewellwyn-Jones.
Set Designer: Carl Davies.
Lighting Designer: Ceri James.
Composer Peter Knight.