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|A CurtainUp London Review
Award winning Anne Boleyn returns to the Globe
Twenty pounds to have a bunch of women throw fruit at you?— Cardinal Wolsey
Howard Brenton's play, a hit last season at the Globe returns with almost all of its original cast. Although it is a good many years since I studied Tudor history at school, I have never learnt before about Anne Boleyn as a religious reformer and always perceived her as a political pawn, married because Henry needed a male heir. In fact she produced a great monarch in the shape of Elizabeth I, a far more powerful queen than Edward VI the king that was her weakling brother and who dies as a child. It is true that in order to marry her, Henry changed the religion of England and that Anne's character was vilified by the outgoing queen, Catherine of Aragon's, Spanish monks. However historical accuracy apart there is much to enjoy in Brenton's play, superbly staged in period at the Globe.
Like our previous reviewer, Cassie Robinson (see review below this) I greatly enjoyed James Garnon's portrayal of Elizabeth's successor, James, I of England and VI of Scotland, spindly and famously described "as the wisest fool in Christendom". James is ideal as the successor to Anne's daughter, himself the product of a Catholic mother, Mary Queen of Scots (a threat to Elizabeth) and a protestant lord, Darnley, he personifies the ambiguity of the Church of England of which he found himself the head. In turn his grandson James II will leave the throne in 1688 as a catholic to live in France.
This excellent new play with its diverting cast blends well into the current season celebrating the King James Bible which could not have come about without Henry VIII's reformation. The cast change is Julius d'Silva as Thomas Cromwell.
Box Office: 020 7401 9919
Booking to 21st August 2011
Re-reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 15th July 2011 performance at Shakespeare's Globe, New Globe Walk, London SE1 9DT (Tube: London Bridge)
Anne Boleyn reviewed by Cassie Robinson
Nothing tears a country apart like religion. — James I/
Howard Brenton's Anne Boleyn plays alongside the Globe's production of Henry VIII this season and cleverly dovetails with the Shakespearean take on the Tudor era dominated by controversial personalities and scheming politics. Brenton explores the gaps both in Shakespeare's account and the usual dichotomous reputation of Anne: either a predatory and ambitious witch, desirous of the English throne or an innocent victim of Henry's needs and court politics. This play portrays an Anne of human complexity: powerful, intelligent and witty, but also loving. In addition to this, Brenton sees a religious reformer and a woman who changed the course of English history.
Miranda Raison as Anne Boleyn (Photo: Manuel Harlan)
The play's scope is impressive and challenging: ranging from Anne and Henry's seven year courtship, the fall of Cardinal Wolsey, Anne's reign as queen, the birth of the future Elizabeth I and Anne's subsequent miscarriages, Anne's fall from grace at the machinations of Thomas Cromwell and finally to the creation of the first ever English language. As if this were not ambitious enough, Brenton creates an elaborate analeptical structure to relate all this. The recently crowned James I, faced with the pettily bickering but potentially devastating factions of Bishops and puritans, seeks Anne's ghost and her religious legacy. In a series of flashbacks, the audience then witness Anne and Henry's story. The premise which ties these two historical strands together is religion. Brenton portrays Anne as a closet Lutheran: stemming both from true faith and, conveniently, the facilitation of her royal marriage. Her religious sympathies ultimately have a hand in the creation of the seminal James I Bible.
Miranda Raison tackles this thrilling part of Anne with aplomb, vivacity and sympathy: a human portrait of a woman both warm-hearted and clear-headed. This "whore who changed England" often directly addresses the audience, engaging us with her playful humour in the face of adversity. Anthony Howell's Henry is the true lover of Anne, at the mercy of the conniving politickers. In a very Tudor portrait, he is schooled in courtly love and the pursuits of hunting, riding and banqueting. Although excellently executed, this part is necessarily and perhaps deliberately, overshadowed by the brilliance of Anne. However, it is James Garnon's James I who is the real star of the production: a highly comic Scottish king whose Tourette's style twitch is triggered by any mention of Presbyterianism and, whilst dabbling in cross-dressing, is nevertheless capable of reasoned severity.
The traditional dress is sumptuously designed by Michael Taylor, who has also provided Anne with a walkway out into the groundlings for her to get closer to the audience. The Globe's columns sprout golden branches and fairy lights whilst a gold-embossed, entwined "HA" dominates the backdrop, the initials famously wiped from all the walls at Hampton Court after Anne's execution.
If the sheer range and historical expertise of this play makes Anne Boleyn sound like a dry history lesson, this is far from the truth. Howard Brenton conceals his erudition with wit and lightness, including jokes on Tudor contraceptives or newly invented "portable racks" for torture. He is guilty of a certain romantic gloss, especially on Henry and Anne, but nevertheless, the assurance and bold hilarity of his writing is impressive. Added to this the excellent performances from the accomplished cast and John Dove's direction full of zeal and vivacity, and the Globe have succeeded in a vibrant, stimulating evening of new writing perfectly suited to their theatrical season and space.
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Written by Howard Brenton
Directed by John Dove
Starring: Miranda Raison, Anthony Howell, James Garnon
With: Michael Bertenshaw, Sam Cox, Naomi Cranston, John Cummins, Ben Deery, Mary Doherty, John Dougall, Will Featherstone, Peter Hamilton Dyer, Colin Hurley, Amanda Lawrence, Dickon Tyrrell
Designer: Michael Taylor
Lighting: Neil Austin
Choreographer: Sian Williams
Composer: William Lyons
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes including one interval
Box Office: 020 7401 9919
Booking to 21st August 2010
Reviewed by Cassie Robinson based on 28th July performance at Shakespeare's Globe, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, London, SE1 9DT (Rail/Tube: London Bridge)
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