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Kings & Rogues Season

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre presents

The World Premiere of

Anne Boleyn


photo by Manuel Harlan


by Howard Brenton


Director: John Dove


Designer: Michael Taylor


Composer: William Lyons


Shakespeare’s Globe


24 July – 21 August 2010







A review by James Buxton for EXTRA! EXTRA!

Brenton's Anne Boleyn weaves us back and forth between the flamboyant reign of King James I (James Garnon) and the raucous court of King Henry VIII ( Antony Howell), about a hundred years before, where Henry pursues the young Boleyn. Brenton links these two era's of British medieval history together, through the enigmatic presence of Anne Boleyn (Miranda Raison) whose ghost haunts the newly crowned King of England, James I.

Raison's Boleyn carries herself elegantly in front of the King. Initially in a bottle green dress and mask, she is chased with the other ladies in waiting, who titter and flurry about the vigorous King Henry. When Henry seizes her, she refutes his lascivious advances, identifying herself as Perseverance. What follows is an agonizing seven year wait whereby Henry is allowed to slowly move his hand further up her leg as she insists on maintaining her chastity. Raison combines a suppressed sexual obedience to Henry in a velvet blue corset, with an outspoken religious zeal that exerts itself as she begins to wield more power in the court. She only reveals her minx-like quality which she artfully conceals in front of the King and his subjects, to her friend, the anxious Lady Rochford (Amanda Lawrence) and the audience. When Boleyn meets the Protestant reformer William Tyndale (Peter Hamilton Dyer) in secret, Raison portrays an earnest woman who is willing to suffer the scorn and rebuke of his followers in order to obtain a copy of his version of the Bible. When she depicts Boleyn's devastating miscarriage and eventual fall from grace she does so with tormented passion and tortuous abandon.  Brenton also gives Raison asides that inform us of the passage of time as a practical necessity. This works especially well when she finally allows Henry to ravish her, informing the audience “There will now be a fifteen minute interval!”

Anthony Howell as King Henry VIII, when not in the his leopard skin doublet and hose, hat jauntily set to one side, and regal necklace of gold medallions strung about his neck, chases Anne around the stage in white shirt and black tights. Howell's Henry is an energetic ruler whose voracious sexual appetite is deprived by the coquettish Boleyn; his attraction ironically orbiting around the fact that he is unable to posses her. Howell's thwarted intention manifests itself with great frustration as he harries the red faced Wolsey to invoke the Pope to grant a divorce from the albatross round his neck – Catherine. Howell portrays a likeable but impetuous ruler, who seems to be ruled by what is between his legs rather than what is between his ears. Brenton distances his Henry from the real King Henry in order to convey a more dynamic relationship between the King and Boleyn. In real life, the Henry of Holbein's portraits show a beady eyed, pug faced monarch which rather undermines the athleticism and good looks of Howell's Henry, but then again this is a play, not a biopic.

Colin Hurley plays the ruddy faced Cardinal Wolsey in bright scarlet robes and gloves. Hurley huffs and puffs about the stage, spluttering threats about the outspoken cheek of Boleyn. Wolsey thinks he has found his moment to expose Boleyn, when he traces Tyndale's version of the Bible back to her. However his joy turns to rage when Henry rejects his protestations and orders his house to be searched to prove he has been attempting to delay the King's divorce.

The King's right hand man, Thomas Cromwell played by John Dougall, takes care of business. Dougall commands the action craftily, appearing at once gracious and at the same time imposing. He shows no second thoughts about using violence on Lady Rochford (Amanda Lawrence) to give him the answers about Boleyn he desires and is repulsed by the thought of ever feeling any hint of emotional guilt. Brenton employs him in a similar way as Shakespeare uses the Duke in Measure for Measure in order to control the events. Dougall emphasises his omniscience at one point “We must know where everyone is all the time”. Dougall is a sharp actor whose voice captures a range of registers, from the casual exchange of polite pleasantries to fully embodied, forceful authority.

James Garnon as the flamboyant King of England and Scotland, appears in fine tunics and baggy breeches in alternating black and red outfits with gold embroidery, white stockings and black or red shoes. Garnon's sweeping quiff and prominent goatee give the impression of a severe man, when in fact he gives a hilarious performance. Rolling his R's in a broad Scottich accent, Garnon undercuts the diplomatic speech of the English court with his simple, straight taking fashion, making a mockery of the subservient manner of his courtiers. Garnon at times jerks his head back and barks “dug dug dug” gripped by a bizarrely entertaining seizure, which he explains dates back to his child hood fear of Presbyterianism. Brenton portrays King James as a flagrantly gay king, who even cross- dresses in Boleyn's gold coronation gown and dances round the stage with his lover Sloop (Will Featherstone). But when Garnon is visited by the ghost of Boleyn, his face turns pale and he staggers backwards, fighting to keep his grip on reality. Eventually succumbing to her power, Garnon has an epiphany of sorts, resulting in his commission of a new version of the Bible based on the Tyndale edition; the same copy that is probably on bookshelves today.

The set is composed of a white backdrop with gold lettering covering the back wall, where three entrances provide access to the stage. A tree with ivy climbing up it, draped with light bulbs stands upstage right, while the branches of trees reach out of the central two pillars, where strings of light bulbs stretch to the roof. A central walkway stretches out into the audience, allowing for distant entrances and for the action to take place right in the centre of the pit. The set has an overall sparse, modern feel to it, which communicates the noble sentiment of Brenton's Boleyn. She is characterised as a modern, head strong woman who stands up for what she believes in, as opposed to the traditional view of her as a whore or manipulator of King Henry.

In a box above the stage, three musicians play, cello, violin and piano respectively. Bells are chimed at intervals producing a mysterious air. The plucked cello creates an ominous atmosphere to the proceedings as Anne becomes more vocal in her extremist views.

Brenton's Anne Boleyn paints a picture of a fiercely religious woman with a strong, moral compass. He shows Boleyn following her passion to support the cause of a Protestant Bible that can be read and understood by all. At the same time Boleyn is a sexually aware woman who provokes and teases the king as she wraps him round her little finger. Parallels between Brenton's depiction of Boleyn and Princess Diana are inevitable, not only as victims of their philandering husbands but also in their mass appeal to the general public. Both women stake a claim to the title of Queen of Hearts, avoiding the pretensions and snobbery usually associated with royalty. There is a sense that both women share an equally tragic fate for voicing their views and taking an active interest in the socio-political issues of their times. However neither woman can be tolerated and become victims to their twin charms of beauty and outspokenness.

When Raison appeals to the audience at the end of the play “Dear demons of the future, what do you believe in?” Brenton poses an interesting question to our cynical sensibilities. We live in an age where belief in God is no longer a necessity but more of a choice, where we are not so reliant on a spiritual life. Whether this makes us demons or simply, apathetic is beside the point but Brenton makes us aware of the paradox that one way of dealing with religious extremism is to be threateningly moderate.





Shakespeare's Globe

21 New Globe Walk 
London SE1 9DT


£5 -£35





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