Anne Boleyn – Globe Theatre, London
Writer: Howard Brenton
Music: William Lyons
Director: John Dove
Reviewer: Hattie Williams
Howard Brenton’s sharp, dexterous and witty play, Anne Boleyn, returns to the Globe after its sell-out run in summer 2010. In a playful and shamelessly honest production, Anne Boleyn sees the return of the ferociously ambitious queen to court through narration, memory and the comical madness of a monarch appointed seventy years after her execution.
King James I fights flamboyantly with the legacy of Anne Boleyn, suffering from her historical influence after discovering a chest containing two debarred books by William Tyndall (Peter Hamilton Dyer) and her coronation dress. His fascination manifests ridiculously as he assumes the frock, embodying the queen’s inseparable political and sexual vigour as he embraces his own sexuality with the young George Villiers (Ben Deery). James Garnon’s sheepish, immature but oddly energetic King James I is a triumph of sensitive comedy.
The beheaded Boleyn is resurrected at the outset in a monologue full of character, childish perhaps, but resilient. ‘Do you want to see it?’ she teases to the audience before finally brandishing her own severed head from a bloody bag. In his frigid conscience and in his dreams, King James is haunted by Anne’s presence as she sweeps the stage in a white gown – contrasting vividly to the rich colours of her courtship. He even slumbers in the midst of the players as they relive the years leading to Boleyn’s downfall.
As the scenes slip smoothly back to the reign of King Henry VIII, sex and sorcery are stimulated by the depths of fear in an intensely Catholic society, poised on the edge of Protestantism. Miranda Raison’s diverse performance as King Henry’s second wife, at the pinnacle of her power, is compellingly real among an audience cultivated by Tudor television dramas. Her irresistible wickedness is a fiery companion to Anthony Howell’s fiercely lusty Henry as she tempts, resists and subsists to his advances over seven years before finally relinquishing herself to his will, upon which decision a hasty interval is breathlessly announced.
Brenton is mocking the presumption that the King simply ‘fell in love’ with Anne by holding the humour in the privy where there would otherwise be a romantic confession of love, as in the King’s letters to his beloved. Howell convincingly thrusts out these crude thoughts with impatient spontaneity to reveal the facade of courtly language supped up by an ignorant Anne.
Anne Boleyn is a masterpiece of post-modern ingenuity, a collage of scandal, betrayal and passion smoothly affected by Director John Dove with almost flawless intensity. Sophie Duval is superb as the Lady Rochford, funny, yet sincere when she suffers through anonymity to shame as the wife of the unseen George Boleyn. Though at times the court lacked the liveliness of dialogue required for its length, the humour brought back the bounce with a classically dry witted performance from Michael Bertenshaw as Robert Cecil in accompaniment to Garnon’s infectious energy.
‘I am with you all waye even until the ende’ looms formidably large from behind the Globe’s magnificent stage but it is unclear whether this backdrop of scripture threatens the onlookers with hand of God or the hand of history. Brenton’s inventive and quirkily original script drags Anne Boleyn to her future inheritance – the authorised King James I version of the Bible, now in its 400th year – grown from the seeds of Tyndall and dispersed by Boleyn. The success of Anne Boleyn in grandeur, poignancy and style is, like the triumph of her legacy, in the execution.