The opening night of Anne Boleyn at the Theatre Royal, Brighton

The theatre was packed last night for the English Touring Company and Globe Theatre’s alternative take on the tumultuous of Anne Boleyn. The era hopping production tells the tale of Anne Boleyn, not the heretic and whore that much of history has concluded, but as intelligent, witty and romantic, a woman intent on spreading the true word of God.

The bold production features a big cast all in lavish, Tudor time, costume, all playing their part wonderfully while overlooked by three minstrels on a balcony who provide the evening’s music.

Howard Brenton’s plot cleverly ties in the story of James I, the successor to the thrown after Anne’s daughter Elizabeth I, and his attempt to unify the country’s religions, a theme which is returned to throughout Anne’s story.

James Garnon gives a superb performance of the eccentric King, full of humour and peculiarities but ultimately well educated and unable to be swayed or constrained by the usual methods employed by those intended to advise him. It is in his intent to reform the church that he comes across the ghost of Anne and her story is introduced.

Even from the very start of her relationship with the charming Henry VIII, Jo Herbert’s Anne is stubborn and honest, not giving in to the usual whims of the King. She speaks her mind in a time when men, politics and power govern all, especially women. Yet she has the warmth and the charm to win the hearts of the strongest of men.

It’s an unusual production in that although the violence and aggression of the times is sometimes shown, it is largely alluded to and instead what is portrayed is the humour. The risk of death, prominent to all but the powerful and the manipulation of religion, a huge dividing force that those at the top seem to be above, instead using whichever religious events or transcriptions better suit their purpose, are both well depicted but often in an amusing way.

The show frequently gets laughs from the audience, and the lightness of the portrayal helps to emphasize the romantic story, the story that shows that, despite later cutting her head off, Henry does love Anne. Their romance is central to all that they do and this only falls down when those with the power to manipulate the King decide that Anne, who they all love but cannot bear a son, is no longer of use to them.

Julias D’Silva does a great job of playing Thomas Cromwell, a ruthlessly violent but smart man who is the Kings First Minister, and eventually many other things, who gains the trust of Anne but eventually turns against her.

The show is truly enjoyable, full of warmth and humour despite the dark nature of the story being told. It illustrates a time when power and manipulation by intelligent and self-interested people directly affected the lives of many, even those at the top.

Most importantly though, it shows how the bravery of one independent woman in a world ran by men could have such a lasting effect on history and the ways in which she is remembered.

The cast is superb through, believable and engaging, from the beginning where they personally greeted some of the audience to singing songs and eventually dancing they are a pleasure to watch. The theatre was packed last night but if you do get an opportunity to see this production, or indeed others by this delightful company, then you really should take it. It was definitely one of the best nights I’ve had at the theatre.


Originally published on Guide 2 Brighton.

Posted on April 26, 2012 in Art, Previews and Reviews

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