Saturday, 7 August 2010

A Review of ‘Anne Boleyn’ by Howard Brenton

It’s been a pleasure for me to attend 2 productions at The Globe Theatre in London. I’ve never attended any plays there or been on a tour of the Globe, so it was a thrill to experience Shakespeare’s Henry VIII and a new play, ‘Anne Boleyn’, in an Elizabethan setting. Fortunately both plays took place in glorious sunshine on the Saturday matinees I attended. ‘Henry VIII’ is not one of my favourite Shakespeare plays – it was written towards the end of his career and lacks a ‘real villain’ in Cardinal Wolsey. The actress playing Anne Boleyn in the play was Miranda Raison, (previously seen in Spooks), and she would go on to play Anne in Howard Brenton’s new play a few weeks later.

Brenton’s take on Anne Boleyn is as a keen promoter of the Reformation, with Anne passionate about William Tyndale’s ‘The Obedience of a Christian man’. The play opens with the ghost of Anne Boleyn, and the setting is the court of James 1st early in his reign. James has been going through Elizabeth’s possessions, and comes across a chest containing Anne’s Coronation day dress and a copy of Tyndale’s book hidden away. James is faced with problems with religion early in his reign, and he calls upon Anne to show him how to finish what she started. James 1st is played by James Garnon, who is out-standing in his portrayal of the ‘wisest fool in Christendom’. James is flamboyant, sharp-tongued, playful, clever and manipulative, as well as great fun to watch. The play then presents us with a serious of flash backs to Anne’s life contrasted with James’ problems with the clergy.

This is obviously first and foremost a drama. Nevertheless, the play is very accurate in it’s portrayal of Anne’s life. We never see Katherine of Aragon, but Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell both dominate the play. Cromwell eventually reveals his reformist reviews to Anne and gives her his support for the divorce. Henry VIII is played by Anthony Howell, ( previously in Foyle's War) and his scenes of courtship with Anne are charming. The play’s language is in stark contrast to Shakespeare’s Henry VIII – speeches are short and precise, and characters give us a modern slant on their thoughts – Anne wishes Katherine would ‘piss off and join a convent’. I thoroughly enjoyed the play.

Afterwards, I was lucky enough to attend a question and answer session with the cast in the lecture room at the Globe. Howard Brenton’s chief source for Anne was Eric Ives book, the best biographer of Anne in my opinion. Miranda Raison said she prepared for the role by reading selected parts of Ives biography. The actor playing Tyndale revealed he had read a bio of him and his works to prepare for the role. Anthony Howell had actually appeared in the film version of ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ and already had background information. Interestingly, other cast members had not done any research.

Miranda Raison was excellent in the role of Anne – showing the religious side of Anne’s life, her vivacity and charisma. There was none of the ‘sexiness’ of the recent ‘The Tudors’ tv production, and Thomas Boleyn didn’t appear, so we did not have the ‘father pushes daughter’ scenario either. This is a thoughtful and enjoyable play, and I'd recommend anyone with an interest in Anne , Henry VIII or James 1st to see it.


Susan Higginbotham said...

That sounds interesting! Is that the one I've seen the ad for with Anne holding a head?

Anerje said...

yes it is, Susan. Even though the actress obviously has her head, she carries around the head and Tyndale's book in a blood-soaked bag. She asks the audience if they want to see what's in the bag, and pulls out Tyndale's book, while we were all expecting the head.

Btw, I dropped you a line a couple of days ago about 'The Stolen Crown'. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed it! I honestly couldn't out it down.

Kathryn said...

This sounds really good! I'm glad to hear that Miranda Raison read part of the excellent Ives biog of Anne.