Production: Anne Boleyn
Venue: Shakespeare’s Globe
Running: Until 21 August
Howard Brenton’s exhilarant Anne Boleyn provides a refreshing addition to The Globe’s potentially dry summer season, Kings & Rogues.
England’s most controversial queen consort is given a revisionist platform as a sexy and sincere religious reformer, whose love for Henry VIII is as strong as her desire to free England from the Catholic shackles of Rome.
The play opens with the ghost of Anne and her characteristic soliloquy of indifference and quirkiness. She may have died for her beliefs, it seems, but she did not die in vain. Miranda Raison, of Spooks fame, is perfectly playful and suggestive when teasing the audience with her bag containing the item which she is most famed for. Instead of immediately displaying her kitsch severed head, however, she begins with the New Testament. The opening religious reference cements the plot that follows both England’s political transformation as it breaks with Rome, and the characters’ own somewhat contradictory, confused attitudes towards religion, and its all-important relationship with the King.
The sharp sexual innuendos that season the historical narrative are very much welcome, and help to balance Shakespearian language attempts by Brenton with a more modern twist – including characters cursing and openly attacking the stereotypes of their age. The unmatchable highlight of the show is James Garnon’s Tourette’s-esque take on King James I, complete with a terrifically executed homosexual tryst and a superbly comic Scottish accent.
The acting more than compensates for the austerity of the set design, as always with The Globe. The court-come-forest model is pleasantly simple and functional and reveals a play that relies on nothing but good humour from the audience and actors alike.
Whilst attempting to navigate the audience through different historical periods and injecting a strong dose of Blackadder-style modernity and irony, Anne Boleyn sometimes loses its thread and begins to sag at the edges of the storyline.
But the zest of the performances and the style of Brenton’s writing makes the show fluffy and fun, whilst maintaining a historical pertinence.