Nell Gwynn Director's Notes

Try to learn how to make the familiar strange, and the strange familiar. Direct Shakespeare like it’s a new play and treat every new play as if it’s Shakespeare.
–Sam Mendes

Nell Gwynn is the first non-Shakespeare play I have directed at the Folger. It was with great delight that I accepted the opportunity to direct Jessica Swale’s play, and Sam Mendes’ words were my guiding light throughout the rehearsal process. What a thrill it has been to bring this age old story, told in a fresh new way, to this stage.

From the 1600s to the 2000s, Nell Gwynn remains an inspiration. This extraordinary woman’s story of survival, vulnerability, tenacity, and honesty could not be more vital in our current cultural conversation. When Gwynn first took the stage, it was a groundbreaking moment. Swale’s play is a valentine to the inclusion she introduced, and to the power of theater to offer a shared experience for all people—no matter who or what you might be.

On the heels of the amazing Fall 2018 production of Macbeth, the creative team and I are once again steeped in the world of Restoration theater. The second of two productions sharing the same historical period, Nell Gwynn has been an opportunity for us all to deepen and extend our research further. It has inspired us to uncover more exciting plays, women, and other important figures of that time.

This production of Nell Gwynn also introduces new talents to the Folger. During our extensive casting sessions for this project, we met many very talented artists. One of these artists was Alison Luff, who positively lit up the New York audition room. Alison’s authenticity and innate kindness make her a perfect fit for Nell Gwynn, and we are delighted to welcome her to the Folger stage.

The journey of making this show has been a pleasure for the cast, crew, and designers alike. We are very happy to share it with you. Enjoy!

– Robert Richmond




Above right: Nell Gwynn (Alison Luff) stands alone on stage. Photo by Brittany Diliberto, Bee Two Sweet.

Produced by Folger Theatre, 
Nell Gwynn was written by Jessica Swale with original music by Kim Sherman and Directed by Robert Richmond. Scenic design by Tony Cisek, costume design by Mariah Anzaldo Hale, lighting design by Andrew F. Griffin, and sound design by Matt Otto.