This week, St Mary’s took an extended trip back to Restoration-era London, as girls from LV to UVI (Years 10 to 13) presented the Senior Play, Jessica Swale’s modern take on Nell Gwynn, one of the first professional actresses in England and one of Charles II’s most famous mistresses. The play, by turns comic and touching, shows her rise to fame as an actress, and taking the eye of the King, while also touching deftly on the political machinations that made life so precarious in those days, and the gender imbalance that some might argue hasn’t changed an awful lot.

Due to the restrictions placed on us by the ongoing pandemic, mounting such an ornate and multi-faceted play provided our cast and crew with a real challenge. Luckily, with the help of various talented outside technicians, we were able to bring the play to our audience via Live Streaming, the first time the school has used such technology, which enabled us to go beyond what other schools are creating in terms of productions. Additionally, the use of projections, real-time Live Feed, and very careful planning(!) created a sense of intimacy and momentum that addressed any current live performance concerns with ease.

The cast, on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, were led by Charlotte (LVI) who was playful, pert and powerful in the title role, and Student Head of Drama, Eliza, who was commanding and amusing by turn as Charles II. Anna as Nell’s spurned actor-lover, Nell as the petulant male actor Gwynn replaces, Josephine as the inspiring theatre manager, and Isla as the beleaguered house playwright John Dryden, also shone in a brilliantly flexible and energetic cast (aided by Katie and Marge, our terrific crew) that did absolute justice to the power of the play. The play also included several musical numbers, deftly directed by our wonderful Graduate Assistant, Miss Robyn Caldwell, after schooling from our superb Director of Vocal Studies, Mrs Fryar.

Since my arrival at St Mary’s Calne a couple of years ago, I have been constantly amazed by the resilience, the resourcefulness, and above all, the talent of the actors at my disposal here. This was without doubt the purest expression of that so far. Thank you Nell Gwynn, you really gave us the chance to show all humanity, with ‘skin and heart and some sense in (their) heads'!!

Mr Duncan Ellis, Director of Drama