Reviewed by Guy Picot

In 2015 British actress Bella Merlin brought her one-woman show, Nell Gwynne: A Dramatick Essaye in Acting and Prostitution to the Hollywood Fringe. This year Melanie Johnson steps into the corsets in Rogue Shakespeare’s “Pretty, Witty Nell“, a play written entirely in iambic pentameter by Ryan J-W Smith, who also directs. Gwynne was an actress and mistress to Charles II.

Ms. Johnson is suitably bawdy as the orange selling wench that Nell starts off as, and manages the difficult language well, although I would like to have seen some more gentle notes later in the tale.

The verse is rather more clever than good, the relentless ten-syllable lines becoming rather monotonous with just one performer speaking them. The story itself is an interesting one of love across the social divide and serves as a little English social and political history lesson. With a few props pulled from a wicker hamper, Johnson tells the tale of Nell’s life and times.
The play was blocked to use about ten percent of the Broadwater Mainstage space and the auditorium was similarly under-occupied for the performance I saw, a smaller space and fewer seats would have served the show better.

Johnson works very hard and wins our applause and respect, carrying a 50-minute verse play on your own is a massive task and she does it with gusto. Her accent offended my British ears a little at times but that’s just me. The audience I was part of was clearly bowled over by her energy and charm.

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