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Nell Gwynn comes to the Cotswold Playhouse

Gloucestershire South > Entertainment > Theatre

Author: Thomas Hadfield, Posted: Wednesday, 26th February 2020, 09:00

The Cotswold Players in rehearsal The Cotswold Players in rehearsal

Based at the Cotswold Playhouse in Stroud, the Cotswolds Players origins can be traced back to 1911, making them one of the oldest amateur dramatic groups in the county.

Over a century later, the Players are still going strong and this month will be taking to the stage with their version of an Olivier-award winning Jessica Swale play.

“Nell Gwynn’, for me, tells the remarkable true story of a very unlikely heroine in a highly entertaining way,” said Heidi Price, who will be directing the upcoming production.

“She was born in a back-street brothel in London 1650, and became an orange-seller in the newly-opened theatres. Theatres had been shut down during the Puritan’s rule under Oliver Cromwell.

“Following the restoration of the monarchy, Charles II, a notorious seducer and avid theatre-goer, threw open the theatres. He then revolutionised theatre by permitting women on stage for the first time in history, and Nell Gwynn was one of the first women to act on stage.

“She went on to become one of the most famous actors of her day and soon caught the eye of Charles II and became his mistress.”

The play was first brought to the stage in 2015, at Shakespeare’s Globe, before moving to the West End in 2016.

Heidi, who moved to Gloucestershire from Bristol in 2002, says she was fascinated by the play upon reading it and knew she wanted to direct it one day.

“This play has it all,” she continued, “it has a great story, is full of comedy, plenty of live music and bawdiness together with drama, love and heartache.

“It celebrates a life as vivid and colourful as anything fiction could invent! I find it fascinating to think about Nell being one of the first women on stage and what impact that had on women and on the theatre companies they joined.

“My vision for our production of Nell Gwynn is that it has a down-to-earth feel, a rawness almost in keeping with Nell’s character. She was irreverent, true to herself and full of life and wit which I hope our production can reflect.”

Heidi has been involved with the Cotswold Players since 2011, but she says she has always had an interest in theatre.

“At the age of four I took part in local ballet shows in a wonderful Edwardian theatre in Cheshire, where I grew up.

“Although I was never going to be a Darcey Bussell, I think my love of theatre started then. In my school nativity I played the star and just stood on a trestle table at the back of the stage throughout – but I loved it!

“Whenever studying, work or bringing up my family would allow I have joined a local theatre group where we have lived.”

‘Nell Gwynn’ will be the third play Heidi has directed with the Players, after ‘The 39 Steps’ – in 2016 – and ‘The Government Inspector’ – in 2017.

She added: “It’s difficult to say whether I prefer acting or directing to be honest, I love both.

“Both have their challenges, both can be stressful, but both can be great fun and rewarding. Maybe ask me again near our opening night on and I might have a different answer!”

Rehearsals are of course well underway, and Heidi says that the fact the show involves live music has been an enjoyable learning curve for her personally.

“We have a cast of 24, four of whom are the musicians,” she said.

“We are fortunate to have a lovely mix of new members, long-standing members and a range that are in-between. It has been lovely to have live music and some songs – a new departure for me in directing.

“The music score is a lovely, lively nod to the bawdy songs of the day and to music used the theatrical productions. We are fortunate to have four great musicians on board with a range of period-style instruments and a great Musical Director in Kate Raw.”

‘Nell Gwynn’ will be at the Cotswold Playhouse from Thursday 19th to Saturday 21st and Thursday 26th to Saturday 28th March.

For more information visit www.cotswoldplayhouse.co.uk

Other Images

Lucy Hill will be playing Nell Gwynn
David Carron, Lucy Hill and Tony Free in rehearsal

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