Feisty lady Nell Gwynn brought to the Crawley stage

Rhianna McGreevy
Rhianna McGreevy

Rhianna McGreevy is thrilled to be playing such a challenging part so early in her career.

She is Nell in Nell Gwynn which comes to The Hawth Amphitheatre in Crawley on Saturday, August 3 at 7.30pm.

London, 1660, King Charles II has exploded onto the scene with the love of all things loud, extravagant and sexy. And at Drury Lane a young Nell Gwynn is causing stirrings amongst the theatregoers.

Nell Gwynn charts the rise of an unlikely heroine, from her roots in Coal Yard Alley, to her success as Britain’s most celebrated actress and her hard-won place in the heart of the king. But at a time when women are second-class citizens, can her charm and spirit protect her from the dangers of the court?

The British playwright Jessica Swale’s Nell Gwynn premiered at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2015 and was nominated for five awards, winning a 2016 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy.

“In Jessica Swale’s version, Nell is very witty, very funny, very feisty”, Rhianna says: “She is incredibly smart. She was not born into particularly fortuitous circumstances. She has had to work really hard all her life to make her way and to survive in what was a really brutal world. It was not easy to be a woman and it was not easy to be poor, and she was both of those things.

“But she rose up through the ranks. Her mother was a prostitute, and Nell worked as a prostitute from a very young age. She became an actress and she became the most famous actress in the whole of London and she became the king’s mistress. She looked after the king until her death. She died in comfort and luxury, but she wasn’t born into it. It is a real Cinderella rags to riches tale.”

She is great fun to play: “She is so lovable as a character. She is cheeky. She is unique. She has got this great gift. She is so talented and funny and charming but seems quite unaware of quite how special she is. I think her self-worth is quite low. She has always only ever been useful for sex basically, but there is so much more to her than the fact that she is sexy. She is sexy, very sexy, but she is also kind and understanding and really bright and intelligent. She brings a lot of joy to the people that she crosses paths with. They all feel richer for her being in their lives, and she goes through such a transformation throughout the play. She is a decent person, but she is also very clever. She knows what her strengths are and she knows how to use them, but she is also driven by her heart as much as by her head. She genuinely does fall in love with the king and not just for his title and his money. She really does genuinely fall in love with him.”

Rhianna graduated just two years ago and is delighted to be joining Changeling theatre company for this show.

“Nell Gwynn is one of the most challenging roles I have had yet. She is a massive, massive role. She hardly leaves the stage, but it is great to have such a big challenge so early in my career. I am really grateful to have such a wonderful opportunity, and it is such a lovely company too.”

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