by Jessia Swale

directed by Adam Henderson

A United Players of Vancouver production

at Jericho Arts Centre

June 1 - 24, 2018






Spotlight Article by Sabrina Furminger


From orange seller to pioneering actress to lover of a king, the fascinating and true story of Nell Gwynn springs to vivid life on the Jericho stage in United Players of Vancouver’s rousing production of Jessica Swale’s Nell Gwynn.

It’s London, 1660. A plucky orange seller from Coal Yard Alley catches the eye of Charles Hart, the most popular actor in Drury Lane. Hart recognizes that this particular orange seller – a firecracker of a girl named Nell Gwynn, whose mother works in a bawdy house – is something of a diamond in the rough who, with a little coaching, could shine on stage. He invites Nell to study acting with him for a month, and she agrees, and it isn’t long before she’s considered one of the greatest actresses (not to mention one of the first women to appear on the British stage) in Restoration London.

Lauded for her innate talent and her singular beauty, Nell soon catches the attention of another Charles – King Charles II – with whom she enters into a passionate love affair.

Brimming with wit and romance and bawdy humour, Swale’s 2015 play celebrates an uncompromising heroine of the ages who soared high above her station while staying true to her own desires.

For Adam Henderson, director of United Players’ production of Nell Gwynn, there’s much to enjoy about Swale’s play: the time period in which it is set; the present-day relevance of its many discussions around gender roles; the abundance of music; the substance of the real-life heroine herself. “I think this play is very successful in revealing England at a time of tremendous ethical upheaval when they burst from Puritanism back to joy and enjoyment, and it’s a period where all of a sudden, sex, sexuality, drinking, celebration, art, and theatre became possible again after 10 or 15 years of terrible, brutal austerity,” says Henderson. “I’m suddenly watching this play and understanding why the English have this really bawdy sense of humour.”

This is particularly true of Nell, who Henderson considers “sex-positive in that she doesn’t do dirty jokes in that way of, ‘Everything sexy is dirty.’ She does her bawdy humour in that way of, ‘Everything sexy is quite fun,’” notes Henderson. “The character of Nell Gwynn partly seems to take her power because she doesn’t really want to be anything other than what she is. She’s not trying to social climb. She’s not trying to change class. She’s simply being herself, and that authenticity is what endeared her to the English public. She was the king’s mistress and didn’t apologize.”

Swale wrote Nell Gwynn with Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in mind, according to Henderson. “It’s written to be staged in that kind of Elizabethan manner where there are no set changes and there are no lighting changes: You moved very swiftly from setting to setting just from the actors turning around, and then they’re somewhere else,” says Henderson, who, like Swale, says he prefers “to treat drama like the way we play pool or billiards: one scene knocks into another and sends it sailing so we have a constant pouring forward of energy.”

Thus, the United Players production honours Swale’s original staging by placing a big thrust stage in the middle of the theatre. “I’m very much pushing the actors into the audience as well so that the theatre you go and see the show in is the same theatre you’re seeing the show about,” says Henderson. 

Henderson adds that Nell Gwynn is “very much a play about why we do plays in the first place, about what they’re for and what they do for it, and that’s my principle attachment to it: it’s about why I love theatre.”


United Players’ production of Nell Gwynn features Charlotte Wright as Nell, Marc Leblanc as King Charles II, Emmett Lee Stang as Hart, Sally Clark as Old Ma Gwynn and Queen Catherine, Leeza Udovenko as Lady Castlemaine and Louise de Keroualle, Gordon Law as Arlington, David C. Jones as Killigrew, Brian Hinson as Kynaston, Paul Ferancik as Dryden, Sebastian Johansson as Ned, Breanne Doyle as Rose Gwynn and Mattie Shisko as Nancy; Kennedy Sloane, Kaelee Steele, Kris Neufeld, and Trudi Conradie form the Ensemble, and the production pianist is Jocelyn Tam.

The production team includes Adam Henderson (Director), Andree Karas (Executive Producer), Fran Burnside (Producer/Production Manager), Trudi Conradie (Assistant Director), Michael Methot (Technical Director/Lighting Designer), Lina Fitzner (Choreographer), Chris Bayne (Set Designer), Zakk Harris (Sound Designer) Kayla Charchuk (Music Supervisor), Sylvie La Riviere (Fight Consultant), Frances Herzer (Properties Designer), Linda Begg (Set Decoration), C.S. Fergusson-Vaux (Costume Designer), Andy Sandberg (Stage Manager), Bruce Suttie (Set Construction), Catherine E. Carr (Wardrobe Mistress), John Harris (Riser Configuration), Kaelee Steele (Assistant Stage Manager), and Kris Neufeld (Assistant Stage Manager).


Adam Henderson has directed: Figaro, Democracy, London Assurance, Way of the World, Power of Yes, Present Laughter, Breath of Life, The Circle, Constant Wife, Aristocrats (United Players); People (United Players); Buddy (Persephone); Pillowman (Firehall); American Pilot, Romance, and at London’s Almeida and the Edinburgh Festival. He has danced at Covent Garden, and acted in London’s West End and National Theatre and in Vancouver in Godot, Peer Gynt, Mary Stuart, Skull in Connemara, Dial ‘M’,Cyrano, Arturo Ui, Plan B, Winter Harp, and Beckett’s All That Fall. Adam directed The Train Driver last season for United Players.


Jessica Swale is an award-winning playwright, theatre director and screenwriter. Swale’s first play, Blue Stockings, premiered at the Globe Theatre in 2013; in 2016, her play Nell Gwynn won the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy, after it transferred from the Globe to the West End. Swale is author of a best-selling series of drama games books. Her other plays include All's Will that Ends Will, Thomas Tallis, The Playhouse Apprentice, and The Mission, the latter of which is about illegal adoptions in the 1920s. Her adaptations include Sense and SensibilityFar From the Madding CrowdThe Secret Garden, and Stig of the Dump. Swale is currently writing the feature film version of Nell Gwynn for Working Title.

-With files from Wikipedia


At the Jericho Arts Centre - 1675 Discovery (near Jericho Beach)

June 1 - 24, 2018

Thursday through Sunday, at 8 pm
(2pm only on Jun 10, 17, 24)

$12 Preview: May 31
Talkback: June 7

Matinees: June 10, 17, 24 at 2pm
(no evening performances on those dates)

Single Tickets: $20 - $26

Jericho Arts Centre

1675 Discovery Street, Vancouver, B.C. V6R 4K5

TICKETS:Online or call 604 224 8007, ext. 2

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