Playhouse Creatures is a play by April de Angelis, set in 1669 after King Charles II has come to the throne and declared that women should play the female roles in the newly-reopened theatres. Theatre group OVO have reprised their acclaimed production from May at the Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans. This was my first visit to that theatre, and I found it a small but welcoming and well-appointed space.
Directed by Janet Podd, the cast of five women are extremely talented, portraying their characters with warmth. I particularly liked Kat-Anne Rogers as the stage hand Doll Common, and Lucy Crick as Nell Gwynn, the orange-seller turned actress who would eventually become the King’s mistress. Lisa Stenhouse was also very good as Mrs Betterton, wife of the theatre manager (whom we never see), having to cope with the knowledge that she is now seen as too old to play many of her acclaimed roles.
Despite their generally liberated and exciting lives, the characters face many difficulties owing to their gender: Mrs Marshall (Stephanie Jones) is targeted after she is tricked by a nobleman into sleeping with him, while when Mrs Farley (Jane Withers) becomes pregnant she is forced to leave the stage and descends into poverty. Actresses were often seen as little better than whores during this period, though they were accorded the title “Mrs” in an attempt to secure respectability, even if they were unmarried.
The production is a strong one and I can see why it was popular enough to make a return, but I would have liked more depth and detail in the play itself: I saw Nell Gwynn at the Globe earlier this year and I thought it was by far the better play. Still, I am glad I made the effort to see this production.