Even if you are not a fan of period dramas, or learning about history or Shakespeare, “The Compleat Female Stage Beauty” at Lakeside Arts Centre is not a show to be missed.
Set in the 17th century after the re-opening of the theatres in London, thanks to the newly reinstated King Charles II, this shabby chic play follows the trials and tribulations of the onetime famous Edward ‘Ned’ Kynaston renowned for being “the most beautiful woman on the British stage”.
My anxiety disappeared as history was brought to life right before my eyes.
Before arriving, I was dubious about how much of the play I would understand. But my anxiety disappeared as history was brought to life right before my eyes in a witty and engaging play performed with comedic precision from start to finish. The stage was strewn with sexual innuendos and bawdy jokes.
You become attached to the arrogant, self absorbed, attention seeking Ned.
But if you pulled away the flamboyant exterior the play sought to deal with a major event in British social history… and I actually think it worked. Far from being an over the top attempt at a history lesson, “The Compleat Female Stage Beauty” engaged with the audience in such a way that you became rather attached to the arrogant, self absorbed, attention seeking Ned (Francois Pandolfo).
By the end of the play I actually wanted the theatres to let him play girls parts and I’d learnt about how the ‘actress’ became an established part of the theatre. History and entertainment all in one.
I’m not sure whether the audience laughter was entirely due to the acting or the fact that they understood the historical references more than I did.
Slap stick comedy ruled right from the opening scene along with purposefully over acted monologues and the occasional cheeky wink.
However, I’m not sure whether the audience laughter was entirely due to the acting or the fact that they understood the historical references more than I did. Nevertheless, the comedy was maintained throughout the first half and even after the interval when the mood of the play became significantly darker as Ned falls off his pedestal and lands at the bottom of the barrel.
Ned’s opening scene as Desdemona from Shakespeare’s “Othello” was incredibly camp.
Francois Pandolfo as Ned Kynaston was fabulous in every sense of the word. His opening scene as Desdemona from Shakespeare’s “Othello” was incredibly camp and he managed to maintain this frivolity throughout the play whilst still letting the audience see how fragile Ned actually was. There were certainly moments when the darker side of the story were drawn out through his acting.
A standout moment of the play was when Lynne Seymour who played Margaret Hughes ‘auditioned’ with a sonnet from “Othello.” She struck the balance between doing everything you could possibly do wrong when performing Shakespeare and yet still acting it well; a skill which is incredibly hard to execute.
It is hard to fault any of the actors.
Another actress I was impressed with was Mali Tundo Jones (Nell Gwynn) who maintained her convincing cockney accent throughout the whole play and carried some of the heavier scenes with her gusto. Her stage presence was there throughout and she commanded the room as her character would have done in real life.
Having said that, it is hard to fault any of the actors. They were all in touch with their characters and I particularly enjoyed Sir Charles Sedley’s (Kieron Self) lisp.
In short, the play itself is hilariously well written though I can’t deny that with a different cast it could have been a completely different play. Comedy from start to finish, with a sprinkle of historical fact “The Compleat Female Stage Beauty” is unmissable.