Bright new look at an old tale

Anne Boleyn

Malvern Festival Theatre


HOWARD Brenton's historical drama is a marvellously entertaining telling of the story of Anne Boleyn.

Set half in Tudor times to tell the story of Anne Boleyn's love affair with Henry VIII, and half five decades on during the reign of James 1, it makes for a fast-moving, witty, informative and thoroughly enjoyable evening of theatre.

We learn of Anne's influence over Henry to move England away from Rome and the Pope. By alerting him to a new translation of the Bible by the banned William Tyndale, they were able to use the scriptures to argue that God had made Henry the head of the church in England.

He could therefore approve his own divorce and marry Anne.  The hook of the play then shows how her way of accepting a revolutionary telling of the bible went on to influence Henry's successor, James 1, many years later as he endeavoured to bring the religious factions in the country together.

One expects a production by the Globe Theatre to showcase the country's finest actors, and the audience was definitely treated to a large cast of unfailingly fine performances from English Touring Theatre.

Jo Herbert, in the title role, showed us Anne as a strong, likeable, and feisty woman. She and Henry were ‘an item' for seven years before they were able to marry.

Evidently she refused to sleep with him until the marriage was assured by Henry's divorce from Katherine. The play implies that it was a true love affair between the pair, and Henry, desperate to provide a male heir, had to turn the country, and religion, upside down to be able to marry the woman he loved.

However, others in the court, notably Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell, found her hugely threatening to their own powerful influences. When she failed to produce a son, she was swiftly removed from Henry's protection and disposed of in The Tower.

The standout performance of the evening was James Garnon's portrayal of James 1. His stammering, tic strewn, and physically demanding role, was riveting to watch. He was the comic turn of the play and held the audience completely spellbound whenever he was on stage.

This is a fine, well-crafted play and it is a joy to have such an immaculate production gracing the stage in Malvern. To 28-04-12.

Clare Trow 


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