Monday 4 February 2013

Playhouse Creatures at The Maddermarket Theatre

On Saturday 2nd February 2013 I attended the matinee performance from the Norwich Players of Playhouse Creatures by April De Angelis at The Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich. The play was written in 1993 but is set in the time of the Restoration of King Charles II to the throne of England. The cast consisted of Mrs Betterton - Becky Sweet, Doll Common - Dot Binns, Mrs Marshall - Libby Waite, Mrs Farley - Emily Deere and Nell Gwyn - Rebecca Wass.

It is 1660 and Charles II permits actresses to perform on stage for the first time. These became known as the ‘playhouse creatures’ and the play brings these characters to life, characters who are slightly ageing but well-connected or conformist young ladies. All is well until a brash youngster, Nell Gwyn comes along, determined to improve her life from orange-seller to actress even though ‘actress’ to most gentlemen of the time was close to being a ‘whore’. Were they coming to appreciate the dramatic talent or for other less salubrious intentions? The play was a juicy and hilarious historical drama with strong language and themes of an adult nature.

Four of the five women women are echoes of real people, the fifth is an echo of a character from the time before, when women were off the stage, when Shakespeare reigned and Ben Jonson created a female character unparallelled in realism. Doll Common knew what it was to live, to take and to love. She described how Betterton’s theatre was formerly a bear pit, and how as a child she watched her father rip the claws from an aggressive female dancing bear. This makes you understand the analogy with Restoration playhouses – that the actresses were ’creatures’ who would be tamed if they stepped out of line.

This was a brilliant performance from the Norwich Players as they brought April De Angelis' story to life as we were transported back to the time of Charles II. The play was gritty as well as having moments of humour. Well done to all the cast and the Director Lucinda Bray for this amazing production at The Maddermarket Theatre.

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