BWW Interview: Laura Pitt-Pulford Talks NELL GWYNN
Jessica Swale's biographical drama of Nell Gwynn premiered at Shakespeare Globe's in 2013 and then enjoyed a West End run, with Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Gemma Arterton respectively playing Nell. Now it's the turn of Laura Pitt-Pulford - whose musical credits include Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Flowers for Mrs Harris and Side Show - to play the titular character in a new UK tour.
How much did you know about Nell Gwynn before taking this on?
Of course I knew of her and that she was one of the first women on stage and mistress to Charles II, but that really was about it.
Did you do lots of research into the period, or did you want to focus on Jessica's interpretation?
Whenever I approach any character I like to research what the world was like at that time and get a clearer understanding of what it was like to live then. With Jessica's script you really get a feel for the period from the word go.
Is it challenging to put your stamp on the role, and what do you think you bring to it?
I wouldn't say it's challenging - it's more exciting. To be able to put your stamp on a character is the most thrilling part of any actor's process. With every role you bring a part of yourself to it, and the beauty of Nell is her humanity.
Do you have a favourite line that you feel encapsulates Nell?
My favourite line in the show is in Act 2, where she talks about how it feels to be up on a stage in front of an audience: "Cause that's all there is in a play. That moment. London could be burning down or the Thames could rise. But just for that moment, we're all there, us and the crowd. And it's all that exists. And it fills us."
How do you approach this show as opposed to a musical? Does your process change at all?
Not really, if I'm honest. I approach a character in exactly the same way I would in a musical.
Is there much interaction with the audience or ad-libbing?
What's wonderful is that the audience immediately feel a part of the show, right from the off. There isn't any ad-libbing as such, but instead of it feeling like them and us, it feels like we're all one unit.
Are there elements of Nell's experience that you can relate to?
Ha! Not so much being the king's mistress, but being an actress on stage would be one of them. The whole play celebrates the joy and necessity of theatre and throughout we witness how much it means to Nell. It changes her life, and theatre has certainly done that for me. Theatre has managed to pull me through some of the hardest times, both being on stage and part of an audience.
What does it mean to you to share Nell's story?
It's always a joy to play a woman of strength who isn't afraid to fight for what she believes and say what she truly thinks. Nell's story is one that should be told. If Nell were here today she would have been heading the Women's March last month with the biggest and boldest placard.
Why do you think audiences should come see Nell Gwynn?
You will laugh, you will cry and you will forget about your own lives for those two and a half hours. There is so much joy in this play, and right now we need it.
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton