mon 20/05/2024

theartsdesk MOT: Anne Boleyn, Globe Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk MOT: Anne Boleyn, Globe Theatre

theartsdesk MOT: Anne Boleyn, Globe Theatre

Thames-side Tudor hit remains fleet of foot one year on

Henry (Anthony Howell) loves Anne (Miranda Raison). Then he kills herManuel Harlan

In the spirit in which these reviews are intended, I can report that all the bits of Anne Boleyn are working. The chrome is gleaming; all cylinders are firing. It’ll be good – roadworthy, Globe-worthy – for another year at least.

Tudormania, as David Nice intimated last year, is here to stay, and will presumably carry on growing and glowing, and this play’s arrival (after Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hallet al) is perfect timing. Howard Brenton’s take on the brief but influential marriage of England’s most brilliant beheaded queen to Henry VIII is intentionally tilted towards farce, though if there was and is anything wrong with it, it’s tone – a minor flaw.

The conceit is that Boleyn’s independent zeal for reforming English Christianity helped, some 75 years later, settle the issues of faith in the kingdom for good. She is, first, a pawn in Henry VIII’s progenitive war to sire a male successor (as Hans Holbein’s biographer Derek Wilson once put it, so succinctly, the English Reformation kicked off when Henry “stopped sleeping with Catherine of Aragon”). That much is historically plausible.

Anne having, secondly, secret meetings with radical Bible translator William Tyndale is Brenton’s pure theatrical fantasy. (Tyndale left England a decade before the marriage, though their both being extra-judicially executed in the same year, 1536, has a certain dire piquancy.) And thirdly, there is no evidence whatsoever that her severally removed cousin James I was haunted by her but it is one of the cleverest tropes in Brenton's play that he was.

And once again, to echo my colleague, the play is not really about any one of these astonishing people – Henry, Anne, James – but purports that the King James Bible came about as a result of their treacherously complex relations with the bedchamber, birth of the wrong sex (plus miscarriages), power-hungry clerics and the first Stuart monarch’s intellectual impatience.

DanceTo harp on a purely aesthetic point, flagged up by many last year, there’s a risk of major imbalance in James Garnon’s winning portrayal of James as a farting, gibbering, punkish, gay parvenu. When I first saw it, I felt this was the dominant part in the play, though in fact Garnon appears in just half a dozen scenes. But the one which opens Act II with James in Anne’s coronation dress dancing with, and finally French kissing, George Villiers (Ben Deery) (pictured right) remains one of the funniest pas de deux to be seen in London.

Anne Boleyn is the witty prose tugboat alongside the poetic cruise liners plying the Globe’s ocean this summer - and kind of plays everything out with explicatory verve, which is, perhaps, where the tone falters: between pedantry, silliness and sentimentality. Miranda Raison as Anne is easily as good a year on, captivating the audience from the off in ghostly white with a tease about her severed head and a little incendiary book (one of Tyndale’s). Her spirit captivates; her yearning is heartbreaking. And Julius D’Silva - a new Thomas Cromwell and Anne’s deadly adversary - is far more charismatic and authentically murderous than his predecessor.

What fun this show is. Don’t be misled: none of it’s true. Exuberantly wordy, its historical in-jokes must also be quite hard for the Globe’s core tourist constituency to grasp but Brenton, director John Dove and their superb cast are riding confidently on a palpable hit.

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