Nell Gwynn


Nell Gwynn by Jessica Swale

Please read carefully all the details, in particular rehearsal dates. Please do not audition if you have significant clashes with the rehearsal or performance period. If you are unsure whether unavailability will be an issue please check first by emailing

Director: Jez Pike     Production Dates:  23 June – 1 July (matinees on 24th & 1st)

Rehearsal Dates:  From Sun 14 May. Four nights a week plus Sunday/Saturday mornings. Cast will be given schedule indicating rehearsals they are called for.

Audition Dates: 

1st round:

Option A: Sun 19 Feb (10am-1pm)

Option B:  Fri 24 Feb (6-9pm)

Option C: Sun 26 Feb (10am – 1pm)

2nd round

Option A: Sat 4 Mar (5.30-8.30pm)

Option B: Sun 5 Mar (10am-1pm)

Please note all auditionees must in principle be able a recall date.

If you are absolutely not able to make an audition date but want to be seen please still email


How to sign-up:This can be done either via email or by coming into the theatre office.


Coming in to the theatre: Sign-up on the sheet specifying which part you would like to be considered for. Choose your preferred first round audition date, and then you will be contacted with an allotted time slot. Extracts to prepare for each part can be collected from the office. A reading copy of the play will also be available.


By email: Email specifying all of the following information:

‘Name’ ‘Phone number’ ‘Email address’ ‘Which part you would like to audition for’ and ‘Preferred first round audition date’. Please also specify whether you would like to be emailed a scanned copy of the relevant extract and/or the script. If you don’t specify these requests in your emailed it will be assumed you are collecting hard copies from the office. 


Format of auditions: Extracts provided in advance. First round will consist of one-to-one reading with the director. Recalls will consist of reading extracts in pairs or small groups. You may also be asked to sing or perform a short piece on a musical instrument at the recall. This will be discussed at your first round audition. All sessions will last approximately 20 minutes. Please be familiar enough with the extracts to be able to have your head out of the script but flexible enough to take direction. You do not have to learn the extracts.


About the Play

Very much a modern history play, it charts the extraordinary journey of Nell Gywnn from her humble beginnings as an ‘orange-seller’ from Cheapside to her unlikely career as the first female star of the stage and her dangerous relationship with King Charles II. The script is light and frequently funny, fluidly moving between scenes in the playhouse and the palace, taking in performances, rehearsals and dressing-room dalliances. It is a bawdy, sexy, and playful celebration of an incredible life, an era pulsating with energy and perhaps above all the theatre itself.

About the Production

The production will make full use of the Maddermarket stage, with some audience seated right next to the action. It will be a bold and mischievous take on this critically acclaimed play with a period-bending approach to design, costume and music. The production seeks an energetic ensemble cast with actors open to new ideas.

The play features some music, dance and song. The ability to sing and dance to a moderate degree will definitely be required of the actor playing Nell Gywnn. The rest of the cast may also join in songs which form part of the action or these songs may be sung by a separate chorus. This decision will be taken in response to the casting process.

Actors who have some musical/singing abilities are welcomed but it is not essential and shouldn’t put anyone off auditioning. Any potential for musical/singing participation will be discussed at the first round of auditions.

Cast Breakdown (Cast of 12: 7m/5f)

Apart from the actors playing Nell Gwynn and Charles II, all other actors will play a variety of non-speaking crowd/courtier/guard roles throughout the production, in addition to the stated roles below. The play requires very few scene changes and movement of furniture/props etc – any required will be done by the cast themselves.

The production actively encourages actors from all ethnic backgrounds to audition.

F1: NELL GWYNN. [Playing age 20-30] The lead role. Requires a confident and charismatic performance. Nell is a working-class girl from Cheapside and a daughter of a brothel keeper. She makes her money in the playhouse, selling oranges to the punters and perhaps more besides. She loves the theatre. The play opens when she gets up on stage and deals with a heckler with the ease of a seasoned performer. Her talent is spotted and then developed by one of the leading actors of the stage, and soon she finds herself breaking convention by being the first woman to perform in the playhouse. Her performances and her charms attract her to the rock-star King, Charles II, leading to a fairy-tale life as his most cherished mistress. Yet her closeness to the King brings jealousy from all quarters, and she discovers that fame comes at a price. Strong-willed, quick-witted, brave and daring Nell is a force of nature. Yet she can also be self-centred, proud, vain, callous and very very stubborn. Part requires an actor with a reasonably confident singing voice and an ability to learn simple dances.

F2: NANCY. [Playing age 18-late 20’s] Nell’s best friend, confidante and partner in crime. From similarly humble beginnings as Nell, Nancy follows her friend, first becoming an off-stage member of the acting company when Nell takes to the stage, then becoming Nell’s lady in waiting when Nell moves into the palace. After Nell has left the acting company, Nancy has a short-lived and hilariously unsuccessful stint as an actor herself, a role she is more than happy to hand back when Nell returns. Down-to-earth, brassy and with a sharp Cheapside wit.

F3: ROSE GYWNN. [Playing age 20-30] Nell’s sister. As her sister moves up through society, Rose is left behind to care for their ailing mother and continue the hard life in the slums and brothels of Cheapside. This is partly out of choice however, as Rose is fiercely proud of her roots and disapproves of Nell’s increasing distance from her ‘own kind’. In a number of scenes Rose comes to Nell in the palace – knowingly embarrassing her in the process – urging her sister to come home and visit their mother before it is too late. Worldly, wise beyond her years with a strong sense of herself and her background, Rose is the fixed point to Nell’s freewheeling trajectory.

F4: LADY CASTLEMAINE/LOUISE DE KEROUALLE [Playing age 25-35] Lady Castlemaine is Charles II’s mistress at the start of the play. Used to her elevated status and natural at flaunting it, she is grand, demanding and used to influencing Charles. When she is replaced in his affections by Nell, she is forced to move out of her rooms in the palace, and departs with a warning to Nell that her bliss will be short-lived. / Louise De Keroualle is a French aristocrat that arrives as part of the ambassadorial party from France. Charles, persuaded by his advisor to develop a relationship with the lady as part of a bid to sure up the fragile alliance, is instantly struck by her beauty. She is worldly, high-status and forthright. She instantly proves a match for Nell, until she is publicly embarrassed in the playhouse. Character speaks almost entirely in French. Actor will need at least a basic grasp of pronunciation, but all necessary support will be provided.

F5: QUEEN CATHERINE/OLD MA GWYNN [Playing age 40-65] Queen Catherine is Charles’ long-suffering and neglected Portuguese wife, who had been unable to provide him with children. She is entirely aware of his many mistresses and does not take her lot quietly or meekly. Has a fiery Mediterranean temperament and is not afraid of expressing her disdain in the strongest possible terms. Character speaks almost entirely in Portuguese. Actor with a good ear for languages would be a benefit, but all necessary support will be provided.  / Old Ma Gwynn is Nell and Rose Gwynn’s mother. Born and bred in Cheapside, she has lived a hard but colourful life. She runs a brothel in the disreputable Coal Yard Alley. Unexpectedly turns up at the palace to visit Nell and refuses to let the rarefied surroundings curtail her natural demeanour (or constant urge for gin). Is initially pleased that Nell has gone up in the world, but becomes angry that her daughter is embarrassed by her and is losing sight of her roots.

M1: KING CHARLES II [Playing age late 20’s to late 30’s] The rock-star-king, dedicated to having a good time. Charles is extravagant, witty, open-minded and lustful. He has a somewhat hyperactive personality, enjoying novelty and abhorring the tedious detail of governance (particularly when presented to him by his advisor Arlington]. He is vain and self-serving, yet often kind; discouraging and actively trying to avoid conflict. There is a more vulnerable side to him which he eventually opens up to Nell. His whole life is coloured by the execution of his father, and his every action as a Monarch is in fact reasoned to avoid the same fate. Part requires a charismatic, playful performance with occasional moments of absurd comedy. Yet, it also requires the ability to bring truthfulness to a character whose whole life has been shaped by one swing of an axe.

M2: LORD ARLINGTON [Playing age 50-70] The King’s long-suffering advisor. Machiavellian, pompous and prudish, Arlington has the unenviable task of attempting to steer the King towards careful governance and prevent the county from going bankrupt. He determined, clever and conceited. Disapproving of Nell, they quickly become competitors for the King’s attention.  He temporarily succeeds in out-manoeuvring her by engineering a romance between his monarch and a French emissary. Nell succeeds in the end however and Arlington, having underestimated the King’s abilities, is removed from office.

M3: THOMAS KILLIGREW [Playing age 40-55] The actor-manager of the King’s company. Dogged, devoted to his acting company and a little brow-beaten, Killigrew is in affect stage-manager, producer and director. Dependable, occasionally bureaucratic and not exempt from losses of temper, Killigrew is the glue that holds the often precarious acting company together. But – even if ultimately motivated by ticket-sales – he is also a quiet visionary; having the bravery to first put Nell on the stage and enable her stardom. They become embattled as Nell puts her relationship with the King over her duties to the company, and Killigrew isn’t afraid of axing her from the cast. After Charles’ death however, he lets her come back. A character whose comedy often comes from the frustration of trying to keep the show on the road.

M4: EDWARD KYNASTON [Playing age 25-40] Established actor in the King’s company, who is used to taking the women’s parts. Outraged when women take to the stage and threaten, not only his income, but also what he regards as a particular artistry; the craft of portraying women and all the coded language of looks and fans. With little choice, he grudgingly steps aside and proceeds to be that actor who milks every line and asks all the awkward questions. In time he mellows and his animosity towards Nell subsides. Melodramatic and probably very camp he is a loveable pain who, beneath all his frippery is dedicated to his art and his company.

M5: CHARLES HART [Playing 30-45] The leading actor of the King’s company and one of the most recognisable actors of the day. An old-fashioned leading man, he has a strong presence, status and a serious dedication to the theatre. Yet,  he is also forward-thinking and wears his fame lightly. He spots the potential of Nell, trains her and persuades Killigrew to admit her into the company. They are fantastic onstage together. He falls in love with her and is becoming increasingly besotted when Charles II seizes her attentions. As Nell’s star rises, so the distance between them grows and Hart becomes colder and increasingly tetchy in rehearsals. His understanding of her extraordinary talent never diminishes however, and when she begs to be allowed back into the company he supports her case.

M6: JOHN DRYDEN [Playing age 30-45] The resident playwright of the King’s company. Flustered, kind-hearted and often lacking in confidence, Dryden frequently struggle to provide completed scripts and to find an original idea. Required to produce plays at an incredible rate, he has a habit of floating plots that sound strangely reminiscent of a certain William Shakespeare. Dryden is positive about Nell’s presence in the company, and the chance to write for a real woman unlocks – at least sporadically – his creative faculties. Forms a strong bond with Nell and takes on board her advice on how to right realistic stories of love. At the end of the play he graciously allows her to write her own final monologue.

M7: NED SPIGGETT/TRANSLATOR [Playing age 18-25]. A young actor-in-training of the King’s company. Ned opens the play with a halting prologue that almost turns into a car crash as he is heckled by the crowd. Nell comes to his rescue and the two form a strong friendship. Loyal, eager, easy-going and probably aware that he will only ever be an actor of limited ability, Ned is an unsung hero of the acting troupe. / The translator role is not in the original script and will be created for this production. It is a comic recurring cameo, that appears when Queen Catherine hurls abuse in Portuguese and Louise De Keroualle hurls abuse in French.