by Howard Brenton.
Shakespeare’s Globe In rep to 21 August 2010.
7.30pm 6, 11, 12, 20 Aug.
2pm 7, 21 Aug.
Audio-described 7 Aug.
BSL Signed 20 Aug.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7401 9919/020 7087 7398.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 28 July.
Vibrant drama of politics, Protestantism and personality.
Husband and wife team it at the Globe, with Shakespeare’s Henry VIII in repertoire with Howard Brenton’s play about wife no. 2, the first non-royal, British spouse of Henry VIII, and the first to have her head chopped off. If Dominic Dromgoole’s Globe regime had no other justification, it would be worthwhile for the two plays he has gathered from Brenton, a major, if untamed, figure of modern playwriting. Four years ago, the Abelard and Heloise story In Extremis was more than good. Anne Boleyn, also directed with energetic clarity by John Dove, is terrific.
It starts with Anne’s ghost, then instead of taking the obvious path backwards from this vantage-point, Brenton scoots forward two-thirds of a century to James I’s early years on the English throne. Each act starts in the Jacobean court, James Garnon’s king a Brentonian wild-card, with minor seizures, head thrown back as he repeatedly sputters a syllable in the enthusiasm of religious controversy. He’s the inheritor of Anne’s religious consciousness, summed-up by his fascination at finding her Protestant New Testament.
That little black book’s what Anne’s ghost displays at the start, before swinging her severed head around. It prefigures two tones Brenton fuses in his play: serious debate and theatrical shock. The two are never better mixed than by a theatrical coup during a five-hour religious debate in James’ court: a scene of theological exposition that ends with spontaneous audience applause.
Shocks and surprises have always been in Brenton’s stock. But his later plays have mixed them into a considered view of religious and political lives; rare examples of a playwright maturing without loss of energy. While the ‘strong language’ notices posted at the Globe refer to the odd bit of swearing, they indicate true strength in the dialogue – tough, pointed, economical, witty, and utterly actable now actors have learned to handle the jagged, sawn-off expression Brenton’s generation of dramatists brought to the British stage.
Superbly acted, Miranda Raison’s Anne catches her playful yet serious nature. Brenton’s self-proclaimed “Flash Banner” play fleshes out a deeply moving character, confident, commanding yet ultimately trapped in court intrigue.
Robert Cecil: Michael Bertenshaw.
Lancelot Andrewes: Sam Cox.
Lady Jane/Countrywoman 2: Naomi Cranston.
Simpkin/Parrot: John Cummins.
George Villiers/Countryman 1: Ben Deery.
Lady Celia/Countrywoman 1: Mary Doherty.
Thomas Cromwell: John Dougall.
Sloop/Countryman 2: Will Featherstone.
King James I: James Garnon.
William Tyndale: Peter Hamilton Dyer.
King Henry VIII: Anthony Howell.
Cardinal Wolsey/Henry Barrow: Colin Hurley.
Lady Rochford: Amanda Lawrence.
Anne Boleyn: Miranda Raison.
Dr John Reynolds: Dickon Tyrrell.
Supernumaries: Claire Bond, Michael Curran, Nicole Hartley, Michael Jarvis, Holly Morgan.
Director: John Dove.
Designer: Michael Taylor.
Composer: William Lyons.
Musical Director: Jon Banks.
Choreographer: Siân Williams.
Movement: Glynn MacDonald.
Voice/Dialect: Jan Haydn Rowles.
Fight director: Bret Yount.