The Other Boleyn Girl

Mike Poulton, based on the novel by Philippa Gregory
Chichester Festival Theatre
Festival Theatre, Chichester

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Lucy Phelps as Mary, Freya Mavor as Anne and James Corrigan as George Credit: Stephen Cumminskey
Lucy Phelps as Mary Boleyn Credit: Stephen Comminskey
Freya Mavor as Anne Boleyn Credit: Stephen Cumminskey

The play begins and ends with the story of the three Boleyn children (Anne, Mary and George) and opens with them relaxing together at their home in Hever Castle fantasising about what they would like to do in their lives. Sadly, they know that their fate is decided by others and they have no choices at all.

Mary (Lucy Phelps), when only 12, is contracted to a marriage with one of King Henry’s courtiers and has her first child aged 16, but when the King sees and desires her, the previous marriage is ignored and her ambitious family insist she becomes his mistress. What the King wants, the King gets… especially if there’s something in it for them They gain lands and wealth from this liaison; Mary, sweetly acquiescent and kind, gains nothing at all!

Anne (Freya Mavor), newly returned from the fashionable French Court, arrives full of confidence and ruthless, steely ambition, soon ousts Mary, bewitches the king and intends to become Queen. Being a mistress is not for her—it’s the ‘safety’ of a marriage or nothing.

George (James Corrigan) is resentful of his fate but supports his two sisters as best he can, and despite events. It is the affection and loyalty between these three which shines through.

A truly fascinating and powerful story, a thriller indeed, and this atmospheric production takes us right to the heart of it. The excellent cast live their characters to such an extent that we cannot help feeling what they are experiencing, including the terror of doing anything to displease the all-powerful King when every little step could lead to status and wealth—or be a step towards disgrace and death. Courtiers looking after their own chances of promotion watching others to report their mistakes make their lives like walking a tightrope with danger everywhere.

Played out on a large, hexagonal stage—necessary for the large number of characters involved—designer Joanna Parker has created a gloomy and dark, towering backdrop which broods over the whole scene either in tune with the darker moments or in contrast with the gaiety and lavish costumes of the dance scenes. Music, as in life, plays a huge and atmospheric part throughout, thundering and loud to match the rhythm of the forceful dance or sweetly, beautifully, hauntingly lyrical with slight catches in the rhythm as if, beneath a calm surface, disturbing passions seethe. (Composer Orlando Gough.)

Billed as with ‘Adult Content’ and, having read the book, I was surprised, and a little worried, to see a small boy among the audience. Happily, the sexual scenes (a clash between pornography and a Mills and Boon novel) are not graphically portrayed, although the births are somewhat distressing—just saying!

The first play of the season, under new Artistic Director Justin Audibert and with Lucy Bailey directing—a stunningly triumphant beginning to the Festival season.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor

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