Compleat Female Stage Beauty
Compleat Female Stage Beauty, by Jeffrey Hatcher, was directed by Michael Marsden and was performed at The Edward Alleyn Theatre, Dulwich College, from 14th to 17th February 2018.
Cast and Crew
Edward Kynaston - Daniel Kelly
Margaret Hughes - Melisa Ramadan
Maria - Philippa Watts
Thomas Betterton - Andrew Cunningham
Samuel Pepys - John Hedley
Charles II - Dave Gresham
Nell Gwynn - Juliet Benning
Villiers - Danny Veevers
Sir Charles Sedley - Philip Lipsidge
Lady Meresvale - Tracy Brook
Miss Frayne - Hannah Tomlinson
Hyde - Bill Bailey
Mistress Revel - Gill Daly
Thomas Killigrew - Mike Stirling
Mrs Barry - Chloe Karpinskyj
Sir Peter Lelly - Roger Orr
Ruffian 1 - Mike Stirling
Ruffian 2 - Roger Orr
Ruffian 3 - Dimitra Alexander
Bouncer - Tyler Savin
Male Emilia - Tyler Savin
Thug - Roger Orr
Audience Voices - Anne-Lise Vassoille, Katrina Rublowsky, Judy Douglas
Audience Members/Drunks/Tavern Wenches -Annajane Glyn-Sheppard, Kate Lipsidge,
Judy Douglas, Katrina Rublowsky, Anne-Lise Vassoille
Director - Michael Marsden
Assistant Director - Chloe Karpinskyj
Production Manager - Annajane Glyn-Sheppard
Stage Manager - Ian Jones
Assistant Stage Manager - Louise Norman
Costume - Jane Jones
Assisted by - Judy Douglas
Lighting - Emily Lamm
Sound - Jan Rae
Set Design - Emily Lamm, Michael Marsden
Hair & Makeup - Denise Biffin
Assisted by - Catalina Ribas Pearce
Review by Mike Forster
Compleat Female Stage Beauty, directed con brio by Michael Marsden, is a delightful confection, set in 1661.
Charles II is on the throne, and determined to “jolly up” his kingdom, following the exit of the Puritan government. He has reopened London’s theatres, and urges producers to make Shakespeare’s tragedies funny, and actors funnier still. At the urging of his amour Nell Gwyn, he tells the theatre to stop the practice of using men play the parts of women. Instead, he passes a law requiring women to do so. Scandal! It is ironic that Charles II - one of Britain’s most notorious philandering royals - emancipated women in this way. And no one was more devastated at his new law than Ned Kynaston (pron. Kinnerston) - renowned male enactor of Shakespeare’s heroines.
The play centres on Ned's life, times, and reluctant conversion to taking the male role in the latter stages of the play. It puts up a mirror to the current emancipation of women in society – now spreading, rather sluggishly, to the business world. But it is principally a farce, drawing its inspiration from restoration comedy, and a series of hilarious one-liners. It also tells a slice of history. The play was blessed to have Daniel Kelly as Ned Kynaston, effortlessly switching from male to “female” and back. The play being bawdy, took great interest in Ned’s private parts, and Daniel did not flinch, as various characters tried to explore beneath his skirt. Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, finally succeeded during a gay tryst, acted out in the best possible taste. Through Daniel, we felt Ned’s pain, as Charles II's ruling forced into penury. But he slowly came to terms with his anger he would never again play the part of a woman. At the end of the play, we see him playing Othello on stage, as he kills Desdemona - a metaphor for man’s cruelty to women.
Buckingham, played by Danny Veevers, was one of my favourite characters, gloriously camp, and shrewd enough to get married to a rich woman once his affair with Ned was over. He confessed that he loved Ned as a “female” in Shakespeare’s plays, not for Ned’s own virtues: another nail through Ned's heart. Oddly, men find it easier to camp it up as soon as they put on a big wig. And it was no surprise to see a swashbuckling Charles II, played by David Gresham, whose king bore a remarkable resemblance to George, Prince of Wales (Hugh Lawrie) in Blackadder the Third. David played his part for laughs, but came across as a lost, almost tragic, figure, while acting the part of a “female” opposite Nell Gwyn in a small play at the Palace. Nell Gwyn (Juliet Benning) was bouncy and fabulous, from the moment she came on stage, in full singing voice. When Charles II ("Charlie") cut her loose, she received a large settlement, and took it very well.
Through diarist Samuel Pepys we heard the sonorous tones of John Hedley, well cast as the narrator. A special word of praise for Philip Lipsidge, playing the part of Sir Charles Sedley, who took umbrage when our Ned was rude to him and set three thugs on him. Philip, I am astonished to relate, has never been on stage, despite the regular appearances of his wife: a wonderful example of male emancipation. His wig suited him. Likewise Hyde (Bill Bailey, looking half his normal age, and very cross).
Ned was led to the park where thugs attacked him by the redoubtable Lady Meresvale (Tracy Brook) and Miss Frayne (Hannah Tomlinson). It was the second time he’d been dragged there to be abused – the first time being when Sedley tried to explore is skirt. Only Falstaff could be that foolish.
Congratulations also to Margaret Hughes (Melisa Ramadan) and Maria (Philippa Watts) for pulling off excellent performances from two difficult parts. That said, I do feel that the playwright could have explained more clearly how Maria fitted in. The play was a bit confusing in other places, possibly as a result of trying to fit so many things in.
The second half dropped in tempo a bit, partly due to the script, but also because of the number of scene changes and bed changes - I did wonder if the bed could have stayed put more often.
But the cast worked hard to move things along, particularly the wonderful Mistress Revel – Gill Daly – who played the part of a barking mad woman in charge of showtime in the Tavern, where Ned was forced to lift his skirts to earn money during his darkest hours. Applause must also go to actors with smaller parts, including some in the audience. It is one of the joys of seeing a large cast to watch a team pull together. Backstage worked fantastically hard, and lest we forget we should pay tribute to the costume department led by Jane Jones and supported by Judy Douglas. Equipping a large cast play with the required finery takes an extraordinary effort. No restoration tribute can succeed without them. And these costumes succeeded magnificently.
The play was fabulous, fruity and frothy. I should add it is Michael Marsden's first outing as a director, and the performance augurs well for his future.
Well done to one, and all!!