Image courtesy of www.guardian.co.uk
Anne Boleyn – Shakepeare’s Globe, London
Howard Brenton’s historical play returns to The Globe Theatre after last year’s successful run which I was disappointed not to have seen, so was thrilled to hear that it was returning.
Brilliantly focusing, not only on the story of the second wife of Henry VIII, their divorce, or even the dissolution of the relationship between the monarchy and the Catholic church but also the reign of James I and how he was inspired by the late Queen to commission the King James Bible.
The casting is perfect, Miranda Raison is captivating as the lead, from the moment she steps on stage, teasing the audience before producing her severed head from a bag under her arm. She presents the character as determined, intelligent dependent but also hugely likeable.
Was she a strong-willed, scheming, young woman who was determined to enter the monarchy and gain the power and control of the country and the church? Or was she vulnerable and badly-treated from a child who was then cruelly set up by those around her who felt threatened by her relationship and influence over the King. This becomes something of personal opinion.
Anne’s relationship with Henry comes across as tender and affectionate, despite our knowing how it ends. Including the particularly comedic moment where, after seven years of his attempted courtship, she agrees to enter into a relationship, before announcing the interval to the audience allowing the couple to escape the stage together.
Henry himself being played by the compelling and highly watchable Anthony Howell in his portrayal as the passionate but torn monarch.
Torn between his impending romance and marriage and the religious issues of the period.
It’s these religious issues that also provide a key aspect of this production.
Not only is this play a tribute to Anne Boleyn but to the King James Bible, commissioned by James I following his discovery of some of her belongings, including several thousand dresses, her bible and most importantly her copy of the infamous ‘The Obedience of a Christian Man’ by William Tyndale, played brilliantly by the charismatic Peter Hamilton Dyer.
It’s her interest and admiration of his work that leads to scenes of secret meetings, despite these scenes being historically inaccurate, they actually assist in showing the audience how Anne’s religious influences were shaping her as she gained status.
Another implausible but theatrically clever method of moving between time periods is to have Anne haunt James I, causing him to look more closely at her downfall and execution in order to understand her motivation and why the controversial work of Tyndale made such a huge impression on her, and later himself.
James Garnon absolutely excels as James I, a compilation of uncontrollable spasms and twitches all succeed in capturing the audience’s attention, and also delights in his relationship with the loyal and faithful George Villiers (Ben Deery) complete with a marvellous moment where the two share a dance and a kiss in what actually ends up being a rather touching scene.
The other members of the cast are also wonderful to watch, Julius D’Silva is chilling as the deceitful Thomas Cromwell. Sophie Duvall is delightful as Lady Rochford who desperately wants to remain loyal and supportive to her Queen but fails after much baiting from Cromwell. Colm Hurley is also rather splendid as the almost gluttonous Cardinal Wolsey.
Due to a successful direction from John Dove, The Globe’s space is well used, no gimicky set pieces focus the attention fully on the performances.
The writing from Howard Brenton, as well as the performances are what confirm this to be a delightful production. He has clearly researched these characters, the time period and the subject area as a whole, taking into account a variety of historical interpretations of the facts available and combining them to produce multi-faceted characters, developing on what may be preconceived views on who these figures were, and enhancing them into likeable, endearing and fascinating stage personas.
Overall he creates a vibrant, entertaining and captivating play, showing that Anne Boleyn was one of the most fascinating figures from history.