A review by Carmen Nasr for EXTRA! EXTRA!



The Word is God Season


Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre presents


Anne Boleyn


Anthony Howell as King Henry VIII and Miranda Raison as Anne Boleyn in Anne Boleyn by Harold Bretonat Shakespeare's Globe

Photo by Manuel Harlan


by Harold Breton


Directed by John Dove


Shakespeare's Globe


8 July - 21 Augist 2011




It is no wonder that Howard Benton’s Anne Boleyn finds itself back on the Globe’s stage a year on from its world premiere. Not only does it lend itself perfectly to the Globe’s ‘The Word of God’ season, with Brenton’s Anne Boleyn re-imagined as a highly influential posthumous force in the creation of the King James Bible, but it is also a deliciously entertaining feast of raucous royals and their pursuit of dangerous liaisons along the gilded corridors of power, politics and religious conflict. Brenton’s acerbic wit combines Shakespearean sharpness with a more modern bluntness that is both accessible and intelligent, and also down right funny. A welcome return indeed, for a production that measures out a novel angle from which to examine the cult figure of Anne Boleyn, while skilfully mocking the national obsession with her more lascivious legacy. Shouting across the Globe’s historic stage, Brenton’s twitching King James I declares Boleyn to be ‘The whore that changed England’.

Judging from the enchanting set of naked tree branches tipped with golden leaves growing out of the walls and columns of the stage, this is no dark and gloomy trip into bloody English history. Indeed Brenton invites us to witness a more uplifting portrayal of Anne Boleyn as a formidable politician, passionately religious and deeply in love - less of the tragic beheaded Queen. In fact Boleyn’s first appearance is as a ghost, in virginal white, cheerily asking the audience if they want to see the decapitated head she holds in a bloody bag.  Brushing aside the one-dimensional historical reasoning of Anne’s inability to bear a male heir as the chief reason for her divorce, this is a much more complex and certainly more interesting testament to the life and struggle of a fascinating woman.

The culprit instead, as Brenton puts it is ‘The Tyranny of the word of God’. Here is it is Anne’s fervent Protestantism and the conflicting interpretations of certain Bible passages on marriage and divorce that eventually work towards her final undoing. The play begins almost a century after Boleyn’s execution, with the newly crowned King James I rifling through his predecessor Queen Elizabeth I’s belongings. He stumbles across two books once belonging to Boleyn; Protestant reformist William Tyndall’s radical English translation of the Bible, as well as his provocative 'The Obedience of a Christian Man' – a key text of the reformation. It is this discovery, the play suggests, that prompted King James I to create a new translation of the Bible that would unite the warring Protestant factions that besieged the nation – and so was born The King James Bible. Although somewhat far fetched, this theatrical tool works well to symbolise the largely forgotten influences of history’s women.

Shifting seamlessly from the newly established court of James I, to the lavish and exuberant court of Henry VIII, the action follows Anne Boleyn’s early days of flirtatious courtship, through the long and agonising wait to secure Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon, the early years of happy marriage, and finally to her fatal demise. Into a whirlwind of dynastic, religious and political struggle, the very personal struggle of an ambitious and passionate woman is intricately woven.

Brenton’s Anne Boleyn is a delightfully cheerful character, admirable in her idealism and honourable in her love and loyalty to Henry. Sharp and confident, she does not fall short of the quick wit afforded to the men around her. In response to the disapproving Cardinal Wolsey’s challenges to her position as Queen, she retorts: ‘I am fertile your Grace, are you?’ Played to perfection by Miranda Raison, she had the audience bewitched and enamoured till the very end.

Besieged by a variety of nervous twitches and spasms, James Garnon is utterly captivating in his lewd and comic portrayal of King James I. He takes full advantage of some of the plays most hilarious lines, delivering the very best in comic timing. Julius D’Silva is deliciously dark and slimy as scheming Thomas Cromwell and Anthony Howell sparkles with charm as bejewelled and somewhat naïve Henry VIII.

John Dove directs a finely tuned production. Fresh and celebratory, it is all at once entertaining, innovative and thought provoking. From such curiosities as antiquated contraceptive methods involving the ‘anus of a hare’ and the ‘testicles of a weasel’, to more lasting philosophical musings, there is much to be taken away from Anne Boleyn. Peter Hamilton Dyer’s rustic William Tyndale makes a lasting impression with his satirical, yet enduringly relevant insight into the problems of religion: ‘Those who claim to be God’s instruments never are.’


Box Office: 020 7401 9919
Shakespeare’s Globe
21 New Globe Walk, London, SE1 9DT
Tickets from £5 - £37.50

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