Fringe Spotlight: Nell Gwynne: A Dramatick Essaye on Acting and Prostitution

Nell Gwynne

Bella Merlin portrays one of the first actresses on the English stage beginning June 8 at this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival. Why are actresses eternally associated with the casting couch and easy virtue? Nell Gwynne: A Dramatick Essaye on Acting and Prostitution examines this very question through anecdote, song, history and reflection, all in 45-minutes. The show is co-created and performed by actor Bella Merlin and directed by award-winning actor/director Miles Anderson.

This fact-based drama shines a light on Nell’s alluring journey from treading the boards to bedding the bawds, set in London (1663) when the town is ablaze with the sight of women on the stage for the first time ever. One of the world’s first celebrity actresses, Nell Gwynne rises from cinder-girl to orange-wench to actress to king’s mistress in a matter of years. This is not a woman of easy virtue, nor a prostitute to the aristocracy, but rather a serious-minded actress and King Charles II’s dearest friend. Their relationship breaks new ground with intimacy between a commoner and a royal and the monarch’s vigorous support of the theater. 

“Audiences love fact-based stories – whether it’s The Theory of Everything or My Week with Marilyn,” says Bella Merlin, author of the best-selling The Complete Stanislavsky Toolkit and professor of acting and directing at the University of California, Riverside. “I’ve performed in a lot of fact-based drama – from David Hare’s The Permanent Way at London’s National Theatre to Shakespeare’s Richard III at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. There’s something exciting about playing characters who really lived – or are still alive.”

Director Miles Anderson whose acting credits include the Royal Shakespeare Company, The Old Globe, Battle Creek (CBS) and Constantine (NBC), adds, “We want to let Nell have a voice that’s not been heard before. There are many stereotypical representations of Nell – such as the one in the film, Stage Beauty, yet we show that she was not just a cheeky Londoner. She was a star – an actress of overwhelming public appeal. The trouble is, Nell was ahead of her time. She was a huge hit in comedy, where she basically played herself – but the public didn’t like her in tragedies – because she was too natural and truthful. How easily – and for what strange reasons – do actors become typecast!”

NELL GWYNNE: A Dramatick Essaye on Acting and Prostitution
June 8 – 27, 2015
The Ruby Theatre at the Complex
6476 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood 90038


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