From selling oranges to shucking oysters, Nell Gwynn’s life reads like a classic rags to riches fairy tale.
But it’s all real, from Coal Yard Alley maid to King Charles II’s long-time and reported favourite mistress in the lap of luxury.
Nell’s tale is being brought to life in a new touring production at Blackpool Grand Theatre this week, with actress Laura Pitt Pulford playing the title role.
“She’s selling oranges in the theatre and is taken up on stage, and before we know it she’s one of Britain’s finest actresses, and becomes the king’s most well known - and so records say - his favourite mistress,” Laura said.
“She was a very special woman of her time; she was strong minded, opinionated, witty, which wasn’t expected of women at that time.
“Nell was quite a find as an actress, and that’s what charmed her on to the stage and into the arms of the king. She didn’t want the money or glamour of being a mistress, she wanted him - and that’s what he liked.”
While Nell was a real life character, much of what’s been documented about her life is based on rumour, according to Laura, which made researching the role an interesting challenge. “What we know about her is quite basic,” she explained. “You can do a certain amount of research, but then you have to create your own version of this person and not get too wrapped up in it.
“For me, it was about researching what it was like in the world, at the time, then basing the character on what’s in the text - and Jessica Swale [the playwright] is so great as writing such full characters that it’s all there for you.”
As Nell’s life played out on stage, Laura says the production is a ‘real celebration of theatre’.
“It’s comedy, but it’s very moving in some scenes as well,” she said. “We have a live band of four musicians on stage with us, playing historic instruments, they’re extraordinary, and very much part of it in creating the feel of the Restoration.”
It’s also been interesting for Laura to pick up the orange seller’s basket, having attended the 2016 Olivier Awards as a nominee herself from playing Millie in Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, and watching Nell Gwynn’s original London production pick up the best new comedy title at the event.
Tickets cost from £19.50. Call the box office on 01253 743339 to book.