Anne Boleyn

Howard Brenton
Shakespeare's Globe
(2011)

Anne Boleyn production photo

Playwright Howard Brenton observes that flowers still appear at the Tower of London on the 19th May to commemorate Anne Boleyn's execution in 1536: our fascination with Anne not only endures but continues to grow.

A year ago it was impossible to get a £5.00 standing ticket for this acclaimed production, so it was a privilege to review on its return to the Globe as part of their "The Word is God" season that acknowledges the 400th anniversary of The Bible.

Readers should consult Philip Fisher's 2010 review that provides a perfect encapsulation. But to recap, King James the First of England (James Garnon) wants to produce a definitive version of the Bible, first translated from Latin into English some eighty years earlier.

For guidance, James calls on Anne Boleyn (Miranda Raison) - in Brenton's account, a key player in the birth of Protestantism, due to her forbidden readings of Martin Luther, translated by William Tyndale (Peter Hamilton Dyer), that basically did away with the need for priest as intermediary: people could now read in their mother tongue and have a direct relationship with their God.

For those turned off by history, this is a comedy (honest!) and is really funny, especially in Carson's caricature of a strutting, lisping, effeminate James. But Brenton's script allows the darkness of the Tudor Court to sit just beneath the surface at all times.

Raison reprises her role as an unforgettable Anne, whether in coquettish asides to the audience as a cheeky yet melancholic ghost, or in flashbacks (often romantic and touching) as the girl for whom lovesick Henry (Anthony Howell) would sever ties with Rome in order to divorce and remarry, changing the religious course of this country forever.

Although the cast remains largely the same, a revisit allows me to sing the praises of Julius D'Silva (a key ensemble member and unforgettable Bardolph in the RSC Histories season) whose Thomas Cromwell dominates every scene he is in and whose powerful, mellifluous voice can be heard clear as a bell from every corner of the Globe: no battling with overhead air-traffic for him.

Running at two hours thirty including interval we enjoy a pairing of twenty-first century language (with some expletives and sexual references) and Elizabethan-Jacobean costume, which really works (as against Elizabethan-Jacobean language and modern dress which often jars).

John Dove's production is a joyous theatrical spectacle that also provides an authentic study of the terror of surveillance, where holes in walls offered both a safe-harbour for spies and a brief sanctuary for hidden books: as one character remarks, "don't trust the trees."

"Anne Boleyn" runs to 21st August

Reviewer: Anita-Marguerite Butler