The year 1669 is a bawdy and troublesome time. Theatres have just reopened after seventeen years of Puritan oppression. There is a surge in dramatic writing and the first English actresses appear on stage. Party animal King Charles is sat on the throne, and Nell Gwyn wants to act. Over coffee in the Pembroke café, the lovely Charlotte Vickers, director, tells me about Playhouse Creatures.
Playhouse Creatures follows the story of Nell Gwyn, one of five women in the play who work their way onto the theatrical scene in the Restoration period. Based, for the most part, on real lives, each actress brings her own background and storyline to the theatre where they work. The play explores how Restoration actresses try to get power in a world that is set against them.
Playhouse Creatures brings to mind the problems women faced in theatre four hundred years ago, and that which women in current theatre still face. “It’s been interesting,” Charlotte says, “for everyone to think about what problems are still faced by women in theatre, as well as what has changed and what we have now got right.” Although the cast of five is composed entirely of women, there remains several invisible and anonymous male figures in the play, including a ‘director’, the patriarch whom the girls discuss and converse with. The storylines of the characters are relatively separate, nor is there much room for friendship in this competitive sphere, but there are moments when the five women band together, a force of good old girl power in the face of the invisible man and the invisible world. The play also discusses the meaning of theatre itself; we must question why we attend theatre, and why it is important.
Head to the Burton Taylor Studio in 4th week for what promises to be ninety minutes of uniquely amusing, powerful and thought provoking drama. Full of dramatic allusion and meta-theatre, Playhouse Creatures provides a moving and often comic account of the precarious lives of Restoration actresses.