Politics of parliament, religion and sex were once thought to be beyond the mental capacity of a woman. Anne Boleyn: second wife to King Henry VIII, mother to Queen Elizabeth I, and devout protestant. Now, Howard Brenton’s play justifies her place as one of the most iconic revolutionary figures in British history. Shakespeare’s Globe and English Touring Theatre’s production is a bold and bawdy homage to the woman who used her relationship with the King to introduce Protestantism to England and to a great extent, influenced the commission of the King James Bible decades later.
Despite being a contemporary piece of writing, it’s difficult not to refer to it as Jacobean: from the script to the staging every element is authentic to that time. The stage is a bright, reminiscent recreation of the Globe’s own stage, there is a distinct (and welcome) lack of microphones, the use of soliloquy and audience interaction is insightful, engaging and often funny.
John Dove is no stranger to Edinburgh audiences and is well known for his productions of classics at the Lyceum, but his playful approach to Brenton’s text is refreshing: this is a very fun piece of theatre that dispels any illusion that classical and historical texts must be weighty or dull. Live music punctuates scenes of performances and commands your attention: notably James Garnon’s twitchy and bizarre King James and Colin Hurley’s God-fearing Cardinal Wolsey. The music gives this lively production added gusto and by the end of the brief two and a half hours, we have gained as much insight into how Jacobean theatre was experienced as we have fresh perspective on Anne Boleyn’s remarkable efforts. She is one of only a handful of women throughout history who have transcended their repression, challenged convention and changed the way an entire society thinks.
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