Show preview: Rogue Shakespeare’s Pretty, Witty, Nell

Ryan JW Smith recently presented his 7th verse play Pretty, Witty, Nell at Barons Court Theatre and goes on to Eastbourne next week.

The play is also published alongside two others by Smith in a volume entitled Rogue Shakespeare – 3 plays (for Shakespeare lovers and haters) which I will be reviewing shortly.

Where: Printers Playhouse

When: 2 Aug

Ticket link:

Promotional image for Pretty, Witty Nell

Read on to find about more about the works of Smith and Rogue Shakespeare and his unique approach to the legacy of the Bard.

What is Rogue Shakespeare and what is it intended to do?

Rogue Shakespeare is my theatre company that produces the world premieres and key productions of my plays.

We have been producing my plays, off and on, since 2001 when we produced the world premiere of my first verse play, Sweet Love Adieu, in the ruins of the Roman Amphitheatre in St. Albans.

Over the last 20 years I’ve travelled the world and learnt so much about myself through my plays and sonnets – at the same time Rogue Shakespeare has produced my plays all over the world: London, Hollywood, Edinburgh, Brisbane, Melbourne, etc.

Now the pandemic is over, and the theatres are open again, I intend for Rogue Shakespeare to become a more permanent part of the artistic landscape in the UK and abroad.

Looking at the text of your three plays, recently published, you have caught the spirit of the Bard but made it accessible and funny for modern times. Was this something fairly straightforward for you?

That’s very kind of you to say, thank you so much! I’m humbled to say that now, yes, I do find it very quick and easy to write in my style.

But obviously that’s because I’ve been doing it do for so long now, and have written so much verse: Pretty, Witty Nell is my 7th verse play, and I’ve also written over 2,000 Shakespearean sonnets.

So, there’s obviously been a lot of hard work and practice put in over the last 20+ years. My first verse play that I wrote back in 1999 took me over 3 months to write – and it was far from perfect!

I wrote Pretty, Witty Nell in about a week, and I believe my verse is much tighter and fluid now.

Pretty, Witty Nell, a one-person play about Nell Gwynne, actress and beloved of Charles II, opened at Barons Court last week. What should audiences expect from the show, and why this particular venue?

The play is a tragicomic history. So audiences can expect to hear, from Nell herself (played wonderfully by Hannah Attfield), her own story – from birth to death.

In 55 minutes I’ve focused on the most important events and characters of her life and times, while blending in fun elements from her life and the art of the times.

I chose Barons Court Theatre for the London premiere as I really liked the intimacy of the stage. It’s really well-suited for a simple, tech-light, one-person show like Pretty, Witty Nell.

What is your favourite of Shakespeare’s plays?

I love so many, but due to my experience as a young actor, I do have a special place in my heart for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was lucky enough to be cast as Francis Flute in a wonderful outdoor production when I was just 19.

It was my first professional acting job, and there were a lot of stars from TV in the show, and I learnt so much from all the vastly experienced actors; and the sublime direction from the director.

It was a magical experience that scarred me for life – it’s that experience that I try to put into my plays and share with my audiences.

That’s how I see all great verse plays – they should be wonderful experiences for the audiences – well-written verse does something to our minds when we hear it – I guess this leads me onto your final question…

Do you think there is still a place for the classic dramatists in today’s theatre world?

Of course! The comedy and tragedy of life, so excellently captured by the classic dramatists, is and always will be universal.

For me, I have always felt that these stories were best told in verse. I’ve learnt that well-delivered poetry (like music) does something beautiful to our brains – it stimulates alpha waves.

So, whilst we’re already engaged with beta waves though our intellect working to understand what we are hearing, verse also stimulates our alpha waves. And when you are being stimulated to create both alpha and beta waves at the same time, that’s when something magical occurs in all of us.

We are incredibly designed instruments of nature – she made us perfect, exactly as we are. We do not need to be augmented by or with technology or medicine to make us ‘well’ or ‘better’ – if we tune ourselves to be heightened receivers and givers, we suddenly feel how perfect we are in this perfectly designed universe.

That’s my experience anyway!