ORANGES And Ink is a quirky play built around the relationship between Aphra Behn and Nell Gwyn in the seventeenth century. Two extraordinary women who were way ahead of their time, surviving and occasionally thriving when any female with ambition – or who dared to raise their head above the parapet – was roundly described as a whore.
The story of Gwyn, splendidly played by Sarah Lawrie, is well known – a woman who sold oranges to theatre goers, then found herself on stage, before becoming royal courtesan to King Charles II.
But Behn’s ability to survive all the bigotry and political shenanigans is a story that has not received due recognition. Played by Claire Louise Amias (writer of the play), Behn was a successful playwright who was not frightened on occasion to court trouble with the establishment. She was also sexually adventurous (bi-sexual) at a time when it was not tolerated – as well as a spy for King Charles II. A brave and intelligent soul.
The relationship between Behn and Gwyn is an affectionate one with Amias and Lawrie creating a real chemistry on stage. Lots of laughter, smiles, joyous dancing, occasional frankness – and amusing interaction with the audience. Their characters are two opposites that attract, with the common denominator being boldness and brashness – and refusal to be bullied in what was a (vile) man’s world.
Behn is the more cerebral and bolder, escaping prison by a whisker for some of her daring writing. Gwyn is raunchier and more brash as she vents her frustration at sharing the King’s bed with other women. Burford House is reward for her loyalty to the King, a place where she cavorts with Behn. Sadly, the King’s death is Gywn’s undoing who is dead herself at the tender age of 37 – a death mourned by Behn.
Oranges And Ink is a fascinating play from the pen of Amias, shining a light on the lives of two courageous – and remarkable – women. It is well directed by Alex Pearson with fine (recorded) music from the Lovekyn Consort. Flutes, lutes, recorders and guitars galore from William Summers and Stephen Carpenter – accompanied by the exquisite voice of Patricia Hammond.
A restoration gem, set at a time of political unrest (quite apt given what is currently going on – or not going on – in London SW1) and talk of a (fictitious) Popish plot. Interesting fare from a talented writer – and all done and dusted in an hour. Not a bad way at all to spend an early evening in London.