Hitchin’s Market Theatre is opening its doors once more after six months without shows.

The Comet: The Market Theatre in Hitchin. Picture: The Market TheatreThe Market Theatre in Hitchin. Picture: The Market Theatre (Image: The Market Theatre)

From Thursday, September 24, the Sun Street venue will be staging the one-woman show Nell Gwyn.

It is the bawdy tale of one of Charles I’s favourite mistresses who went from orange seller to one of the most famous actresses in Britain.

The production is set in Nell’s dressing room prior to performance and she tells us, in her own cheeky way, the story of her life so far.

Playing the part of Nell Gwyn is local actress Jemma Carlisle.

Jemma will be familiar to Market Theatre audiences, appearing in a whodunit and number of farcical comedies over the last three years, both in Hitchin and on tour with the company.

She is also a regular cast member in the St Albans Alban Arena panto, and was nominated for a Great British Pantomime Award earlier this year in the Best Leading Female category for Sleeping Beauty.

Jemma said: “It’s a huge honour to be part of the first play back at the theatre, and to help the theatre get back on its feet.”

Writer of the play, Kirk Foster, said: “We are delighted to have the very talented Jemma performing in our first play of the season.

“Things certainly haven’t been easy for us over the past six months and it really feels like we are starting from scratch as we start to open our doors again.”

The theatre’s artistic director continued: “The whole theatre and entertainment industry has been devastated by COVID-19 and it will take a long while to recover, but we will not be beaten and we look forward to providing a full season of shows over the next few months, albeit to even smaller audiences than usual.”

As a slow build up to reopening the theatre for plays, the Market Theatre has been opening up its courtyard and bars over the last few weeks for three hours every Friday and Saturday to provide live music and a chance for patrons and supporters to visit once again.

Market Theatre manager Glyn Doggett said: “Throughout lockdown we put a couple of our shows online for free but asked people to donate, if they were able, to help us through the period of closure.

“We were delighted to receive money from a number of people, and both myself and Kirk want to say a huge thank you to everyone that gave money.”

Glyn continued: “Now we are open, we need people’s support more than ever, and we want to assure people that we will be doing everything to make sure their visit is as safe as possible.

“For those that may not be ready to visit us just yet, every show this season – and possibly beyond if it goes well – will be specially filmed and put online for people to buy a virtual ticket to, so we hope that everyone will get a chance to see our new shows either in person or online.”

On Friday, September 18 and Saturday, September 19, the theatre will be hosting the last of its ‘Drinks & Live Music’ nights from 6pm to 9pm.

On the Friday night it’s live music from the Market Theatre’s very own actors Lauren Osborn and Vanessa Boland, singing hits from the musicals.

Next Saturday night Kirk Foster will be picking up his guitar and playing some hits from the 60s and 70s.

The nights are free to enter, and no booking is required.

There is plenty of distanced seating outside and in.

The live music takes place from 7pm onwards.

Artistic director Kirk said: “We look forward to welcoming people back and hopefully injecting the town with a bit of much-needed live entertainment, which we all could do with during these difficult times.”

Nell Gwyn runs every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from September 24 to October 10 at 7.30pm.

Full price tickets for the comedy are £13 plus booking fee.

Thursday night is concession night for seniors and students.

For more information, or to book for any of the Market Theatre’s forthcoming shows, visit www.markettheatre.co.uk

Alternatively, call the box office on 01462 433553.

You can also find the theatre on Twitter @MTHitchin and follow on Facebook or Instagram @markettheatrehitchin