Hunting through an old chest, the newly crowned James I discovers the controversial legacy of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s notorious second wife - a copy of the Bible, translated into English. Time jumps back 70 years, when the witty and flirtatious Anne was in love with Henry, but also with the most dangerous ideas of her day. Conspiring with the exiled William Tyndale, she plots to make England a Protestant country – forever.
Michael Bertenshaw - Robert Cecil
Sam Cox - Dean Lancelot Andrewes
Naomi Cranston - Lady Jane Seymour
Ben Deery - George Villiers/Countryman
Mary Doherty - Lady Celia/Countrywoman
Julius D'Silva - Thomas Cromwell
Sophie Duval - Lady Rochford
James Garnon - King James I
Peter Hamilton Dyer - William Tyndale/Divine
Anthony Howell - King Henry VIII
Colin Hurle- Cardinal Wolsey/Henry Barrow
Miranda Raison - Anne Boleyn
Dickon Tyrrell -Dr. John Reynolds
Written by - Howard Brenton
Director - John Dove
Designer - Michael Taylor
Composer - William Lyons
Know the saying “Be careful what you wish for – you might get it”? Well, I came away feeling that I should have listened. I pressed hard to go and see this at the Globe during its first run, and never got to see it. This time round I was taken after some very superior nagging on my part and have to say that I came away feeling that I really shouldn’t have bothered. Such is life eh?
I admit that I have a few problems with The Globe. Its always packed with tourists looking for yer acktual Shakespeeeerien experiunce, innit guv. Most of them haven’t really done their homework beforehand, and don’t realise what an uncomfortable experience it can be physically, standing in the sun for over two hours or wedged onto benches that aren’t terribly coccyx-friendly. There’s little scenery and no spectacular effects, and if they are bored teenagers then its not long before the novelty wears off and they start getting fidgety and start digging in their rucksacks for their iPhone. The stewards always put my back up as well – between the entrance to the theatre and our seats, we had our tickets checked three separate times. Well, I say “we” – I got separated from Him Indoors and the tickets on the way in so there were a series of increasingly terse exchanges between myself and the burgundy-tabarded Guardians of the Inner Sanctum. Then we found that our “restricted view” seats were slap bang behind one of the enormous pillars holding the stage gallery up, and it didn’t help a bit that the majority of the direction put people bang front and centrestage where we could neither see nor hear them (one of the major problems with The Globe is that very few modern actors know how to play a) in the open air and b) to an audience spread out round ¾ of a circle and at wildly differing levels. Very few modern directors can cope with this either – I suggest that during a dress rehearsal they move around the auditorium to check sightlines and audibility). And then I found that the play wasn’t quite what I was expecting it to be.
Far from being a cosy re-telling of the Anne Boleyn story we all know and love – boy meets girl, boy has shedload of trouble getting a divorce, girl loses her head entirely – Anne Boleyn takes you backwards and forwards in time, investigating the religious problems the situation caused and – more or less – sidelining the more familiar bits. This makes the story considerably more difficult to follow and far more of an intellectual exercise than I think most of the audience were expecting. Not that I’m complaining about being made to think in the theatre but, as I’ve said somewhere before, if you don’t know much about the historical background, it can get very confusing and a lot of people are likely to switch off. I admit that my interest started to wane quite quickly (problems with audibility really didn’t help) but I gave it a good shot and my investment was repaid eventually after the interval, when for me the play really started to come into its own. This really is a play where, to get the most out of the experience, you need to read the programme notes from cover to cover first, do a bit of research on the internet and then see the play.
It doesn’t help either when your leading lady is not terribly sympathetic, and physically wrong for the part. I don’t mean the character of Anne is unsympathetic; far from it. Even though Anne was a scheming little minx who thoroughly deserved all she got (I always maintain that its Katherine of Aragon we should reserve our sympathy for), she makes a terrific character on stage or screen. She’s the baddy we all love to hate – dark, sexy, dangerously charming, highly intelligent, manipulative and out to get as many diamonds as she can lay her manicured little mitts on while keeping uber-stud Henry at groaning point (even Disney couldn’t have created a better villain). Even the programme notes describe her as “Nobody’s fool”. In short, she knew what she was doing until Fate moved some chessmen in unexpected ways and the whole shebang started to unravel. Miranda Raison, however, is gangly and somewhat plain, plays Anne as a slightly screechy jolly-hockeysticks type and is glaringly blonde. I thought she showed very little of Anne’s manipulative charm and wondered what Anthony Howell’s gorgeous and appropriately leonine Henry VIII could ever have seen in her The whole story falls apart if the portrayal of Anne is underpowered. Unfortunately one feels that with Anne the author has his own particular axe to grind, seeking to recast her as the Heroine of English Religious Reform – a slightly dodgy premise however you view it – against All Those Nasty Catholics. To bolster this, Brenton writes Cardinal Wolsey as a tub-thumping, sweaty proselytiser and Colin Hurley’s portrayal took this and swerved dangerously close to outright caricature with it. We are asked to swallow the idea that Anne can creep off into the woods around Hampton Court for a couple of meetings with the reformer William Tyndale (played by Peter Hamilton Dyer as an avuncular and faintly God-like presence). Tyndale was banished from England for what Henry and Cromwell considered to be his heretical translation of the Bible and was lucky to retain his head and his innards, yet for “banished” Brenton has substituted “Hidden In The Woods With A Troupe of Extramural Merrie Men Wearing Green Cloaks And Floppy Hats”. I’m finding it difficult here to extricate the faults of the play itself from the actual production. It happens sometimes so you will just have to bear with me. I also found it rather difficult to find Sophie Duval’s Lady Rochford as she seemed unconvincing and slightly too shrewish.
The “framing device” of King James’ finding of Anne’s copy of Tyndale’s Bible (which didn’t Lay in the House that Jack Built, despite how it sounds) was an interesting one. James Garnon’s James I was played just on the wrong side of caricature for me with far too much obvious playing for laughs. Campery is always a sure winner with the groundlings, and usually good for a chortle from the galleries but it can be overdone, both in the writing and the playing. Ben Deery was born to play his Love Interest George Villiers and I came away musing over the possibilities of a porn film called “Pretty Boys in Doublet and Hose”, say no more.
I was ashamed to find out on the way back to the station that The Globe isn’t actually built on the site of the original as I had thought, which is now home to a small block of flats of no architectural merit whatsoever. I would have loved to have hung around in the courtyard, shut my eyes and felt, but no, no time to dawdle, train to catch, hurry up, oooh look here’s some crab claws for sale in Borough Market, lets inspect these for 20 minutes. As I said, such is life.
What the critics thought: