Jessica Swale's Nell Gwynn is a historical drama about the life of the seventeenth-century actress who rose from obscure roots to win the heart of King Charles II. It was first performed at Shakespeare’s Globe, London, on 19 September 2015. The play received its West End premiere at the Apollo Theatre, London, on 12 February 2016 (previews from 4 February), produced by Nica Burns, Eleanor Lloyd Productions and Paula Marie Black. It won the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy in 2016.
The play is set in the 1660s, after the ascension to the throne of Charles II. It begins in the playhouse in Drury Lane, London, where Nell Gwynn is an 'orange hawker' whose quick wit and remarkable beauty soon get her noticed. When she takes to the stage as an actress, she causes merry havoc in a traditionally male world, and soon comes to the attention of the King. But can her charm and spirit protect her from the dangers of the Court?
The premiere at Shakespeare's Globe was directed by Christopher Luscombe and designed by Hugh Durrant, with a cast including Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Nell and David Sturzaker as King Charles II.
The production transferred to the West End with Gemma Arterton taking over the role of Nell.
An earlier version of the play was performed by students at LAMDA, as part of the 2014 Long Project, directed by Raz Shaw.