As part of their spring season, the renowned New Vic Theatre (Newcastle-under-Lyme) presents two plays inspired by the fight for women’s rights. The first, Playhouse Creatures – a 1993 play by April De Angelis that tells the story of the first women of theatre.
It’s 1660 – Charles II reopened the theatres but this time it is accepted that women will also take the stage. At the time, women were still outnumbered and paid significantly less than their male counterparts, but this play intelligently focuses on the women with an all-female cast (aside from the small role of Otway).
For all the glamour of the theatre, these women were never far from being thrown back into poverty and they were far from immune to the challenges of the cruel times in which they lived.
It’s a cast of six with some references to further off stage characters. You have to listen very closely as a few of the characters that you never meet are very important to the story.
From the characters that are on stage, there are stunning performances all round. Hannah Edwards is delightful in the role of Nell – the cheeky cockney who’s fortunes drastically changed once she went from orange seller to actress. An incredibly endearing performance and you really rooted for her.
Anna Kirke is also sublime in the role of Doll. She is one of the actresses and effectively another character’s (Mrs Betterton’s) staff. Exactly as her character was well known for – she is wonderfully adept at playing an older character. She brings alot of the light relief aswell and is very much the anchor role in the play.
This play is a little challenging and the more reading that you do around the subject matter will certainly enhance your enjoyment of it. Fortunately an excellent programme accompanies the production with some superb articles that discuss the time, place and characters that the play is based on.
A cast and crew of mainly women have created a wonderful set, authentic costume and overall production – the quality on stage is worth every penny of the ticket price. Play-loving theatre-goers will be in their element here.
Playhouse Creatures plays the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme until Saturday 24th February. To book tickets visit: newvictheatre.org.uk.