Famous orange seller takes to the stage

Claire Chitham plays the title role

The Kensington Swan Season of Nell Gywnn
Auckland Theatre Company
Written by Jessica Swale
Directed by Colin McColl
ASB Waterfront Theatre, Halsey Street, Wynyard Quarter
August 15-30

Following its foray into the 18th century with Amadeus, the Auckland Theatre Company will be presenting a new comedy set in the 17th century. Nell Gwynn is an award-winning play by British playwright Jessica Swale whose first play Blue Stockings premiered at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2013 and won her an Evening Standard “Most Promising Playwright” nomination

The winner of the 2016 Olivier Award for Best New Comedy, Nell Gwynn will be directed by artistic director Colin McColl and performed by a cast that includes Claire Chitham (Shortland Street, Outrageous Fortune) in the title role.

The play is set in London in 1660 during the restoration of Charles I. Following a period under the Puritans and Cromwell, theatres have reopened and changes are occurring, such as having women perform on stage, taking on the female roles usually played by boys.

When The King's Company at Drury Lane casts the pretty, witty orange seller Nell Gwynn as its first leading lady, Charles is immediately smitten. Having captured the heart of her king, the unlikely heroine takes her country by storm and becomes a 17th century media sensation.

Starring alongside Chitham is Mark Hadlow (The Hobbit, King Kong) Alison Bruce (The Almighty Johnsons), Andrew Grainger (Billy Elliot, Lysistrata), Tim Balme (Nothing Trivial), Roy Ward (Guys and Dolls, The Brokenwood Mysteries) Hera Dunleavy (To Kill A Mockingbird, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,) and Byron Coll (Amadeus, Little Shop of Horrors).
Vida Gibson (Power Rangers) and Samuel Austin (Mother Courage) will be making their Auckland Theatre Company debut.

This will be the 22nd production on which Colin McColl and costume designer Elizabeth Whiting have worked together, this time recreating the luxurious and titillating lives of Londoners in 1660.
The power duo from Billy Elliot the Musical, musical director John Gibson (Amadeus, Chicago) and choreographer Malia Johnston (Rushes, Meremere), will direct the music and movement.

A Guardian review noted the play’s “similarity to the 2014 stage version of Shakespeare in Love. Once again, we see a woman, in this case the eponymous orange-seller turned actor, causing merry havoc in a traditionally male world. We also see a dramatist struggling to turn out new plays: In place of Shakespeare we have John Dryden … treated as a plagiarising hack. Above all, the piece, like its predecessor, is a love-letter to theatre itself and the cheerful chaos involved in putting on a play.

“Swale’s play skips lightly over the political and religious conflicts of the period and, in particular, over Charles’s secret adherence to the Roman faith at a time of Anglican dominance. Instead, it is happy to celebrate Nell as an icon of female progress and to give the audience a good time.”


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