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Playhouse Creatures
Playhouse Creatures

Arena Theatre presents April De Angelis's

Playhouse Creatures

Directed by Tim Wallace-Abbott with permission from Samuel French

On the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Charles II permitted, for the first time, actresses to perform on stage. These were the 'playhouse creatures' of the play's title. The play brings these real historical characters to life, mixing actual events with what they might have said backstage. Yet "actress" to most 17th century gentlemen is just a step away from "whore" and the audience often come more to gawp at the female display than to appreciate their dramatic talent. The nobility seek them as mistresses with even the highest in the land engaged in the hunt. We see comedy and tragedy as the first female actors struggle for recognition and a new role for women, whilst often falling victim to the attitudes of the age

  • Performance Dates
  • There are no scheduled performances of this production.
Blog Updates
Paul Nelson - Auditions      10/09/2012

Read through for Playhouse Creatures will be Monday 1 October at Avonbourne School at 8-00pm. Audition for this production will be Monday 8 October at Avonbourne School at 8-00pm
Paul Nelson - Character List      10/09/2012

Doll Common - an old woman Nell Gwyn - circa 16 years old Mrs Betterton - circa 50 years old Mrs Marshall - late 20's Mrs Farley - early 20's
Paul Nelson - Ticket Booking      09/01/2013

For venues with no Box Office listed please contact to reserve tickets

John Newth - Scene One

  PLAYHOUSE Creatures has tended to be pigeon-holed as a feminist play, which is a pity because it has much to say on other subjects, including the nature of theatre, the conflict between age and youth, and friendship between women. There are some genuinely funny moments, too, skilfully exploited in this pacey and generally excellent production by Arena Theatre. It is a five-hander set in a theatre just after the Restoration of Charles II, when actresses were first allowed to appear on stage in women’s parts. The dilemma for the characters is how to be taken seriously as actors and, for some of them, whether they want to be. In the centre is Doll, the dresser, effectively played by Pamela Brewer despite a somewhat indeterminate accent. Her knowing expression and the precisely timed tilt of her head in response to one of the younger characters saying ‘I’m an actress, not a tart’ is worth the ticket price alone. The play draws a parallel between the theatre and the bear-pit that used to stand on the site, and thus between the actresses and the tormented bears. It’s a rather laboured comparison, but Pamela Brewer moves us with Doll’s speech recalling the awful suffering of dancing bears. Rebecca Marshall is perhaps the least dramatically satisfying of the parts, but Clare Rhodes makes as much of it as can be expected; she moves well and has admirably clear enunciation. When Rebecca’s reputation is destroyed, and she is physically attacked, by her former lover, her reaction is not only fear but anger, yet Clare Rhodes’ interpretation always suggests that she is in control of herself within the situation. The same applies to her attempt to become a shareholder in the theatre – even more than the others, she is a proto-feminist. Elizabeth Farley is a slightly colourless character in the first act, but more than makes up for it in the second, when pregnancy ends her stage career. We know that she knows that the only thing left for her is descent into utter degradation. Bethany Harris gives a beautifully judged performance; particularly in her last scene, selling her body for twopence a time, it would be easy to go over the top, but she impressively avoids the temptation. The most interesting performance is by Linda Denning as Mrs Betterton, the wife of the theatre-owner, who sacks her because she is too old. At one point she has to converse with her husband, who is imagined to be sitting at the back of the auditorium. It must be incredibly difficult to break through the ‘fourth wall’ in that way, but Linda Denning doesn’t miss a beat. She makes skilful use of silence, too, especially in another long soliloquy remembering the early days when she was (illegally) a girl pretending to be a boy playing a girl’s part. Imperious with the other women, she is pathetically submissive to her husband. It is high praise to rank alongside that performance Lucinda Davidson as Nell Gwynn. We see her first as a Cockney ingénue full of attitude and a winning, cheery optimism, but slightly overawed. We suffer with her when she is literally dumbstruck on her first stage appearance and the others leave her to it, but her perky nature leads her to fill in with a little dance. Lucinda Davidson conveys superbly how Nell’s confidence grows from that moment, until by the end of the play she is established as the King’s favourite mistress; she uses her natural femininity more than the others, and comes off best. This was fine acting by a seriously promising young actress. Director Tim Wallace-Abbot makes imaginative use of the simplest of sets: a box screen that can be turned to represent the stage or the dressing room. The audience at Lytchett Matravers was on the sparse side, but this production deserves to be better patronised at its remaining performances: Avonbourne School on 14th February, Shaftesbury Arts Centre on 16th February and Brockenhurst College on 11th March.  
Lyn Richell - Daily Echo

THIS play is set in 1663, as actresses were first being introduced to the stage and each of the five characters has a story to tell.  It is opened by Doll Common (Patricia Brewer) who I found a little heard to understand as the lighting did not allow us to see her face clearly and the accent got in the way, however as the play progressed she came into her own and clearly has a sound grasp of comic timing.  Lucinda Davidson as Nell Gwynn was excellent as her character progressed from the common to the sophisticated and catching the eye of Charles II she reaps her rewards, ‘a whole house and a park!’ I found myself watching her face as every nuance was etched on it.  Linda Denning as Mrs Betterton moved the whole audience with her speech from Macbeth as her character deteriorates. Beth Harris and Clare Rhodes caught the atmosphere of the times extremely well.  The set was necessarily sparse as it is touring but was ingenious and certainly set the backstage and front of house well. I have no words for the costumes as they were simply superb.  
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