Paul Johnson | 25 Jun 2014 21:06pm
Anne Boleyn was a woman born at the right time, the wrong time and without doubt ahead of her time into the male-dominated world of monarchy, power, politics and religion. It’s astounding when you consider her influential role in Henry VIII’s momentous decision pronouncing himself Head of the Church of England, so he could divorce Catherine of Aragon and subsequently marry her.
The fact that Anne was able to keep such a powerful king at arm’s length for seven years, insisting they must first marry, demonstrates the stance of her role in the relationship. However, Anne’s failure to provide her right royal husband with a son, rather than her controversial religious and political beliefs, would be her downfall at the hands of Henry’s military and parliamentary henchman, Thomas Cromwell.
It seems Howard Brenton’s historical, political and religious drama, which first opened at The Globe in 2010 to great critical acclaim, is currently the no.1 target of amateur theatre’s most ambitious directors. However, since Chelmsford Theatre Workshop acquired special permission to premiere this brilliant new play in the amateur sector in 2012 – witnessed by Sir Ian McKellen no less – no more than two dozen or so societies have been brave enough to pick up the Tudor gauntlet and bring the tale of one of history’s most influential women to the non-professional stage.
Unfortunately, a brave society alone isn’t enough. Without a passionate director desperate to bring Brenton’s tantalising script to life you’re probably wasting your time. Thankfully, equal to Christine Davidson’s Chelmsford premiere two years ago, Putney Theatre Company’s current Artistic Director, Ian Higham, this week has truly managed to bring some 16th Century magic to South West London’s lucky few.
Of course, I’ll now argue a brave society and passionate director still aren’t enough… You need Anne Boleyn – or in PTC’s case – you need Kate Kenyon (either name fits: 4,6). To be able to forget or simply stop caring whether you’re watching a professional or amateur production and just sink into the bliss of pure theatre… well, that’s what it’s all about isn’t it? The way Kenyon breathes life into the monarch’s fated second wife is delightful making it easy to see how the King became so besotted with her. In the face of Henry VIII destroying virtually all records following Anne’s execution, Brenton has given her a beautifully resolute, positive but cynical persona as her ghost addresses the audience inviting us to look back at her story.
Higham’s attention to detail in this production is second to none and, in addition to the tantalising Ms Kenyon, has cast his play superbly. Matthew Flexman gives a powerful performance as King Henry VIII. Royally in charge but almost at Anne’s beck and call, Henry ultimately turns his back leaving her to the political and brutal might of Thomas Cromwell, who is handled with great posture by Michael Rossi (see PTC’s Clybourne Park review) as is Bill Boyd’s very watchable and dastardly Cardinal Wolsey. Kirk Patterson’s madly camp King James I also deserves special mention as the play skips forward in time to the start of the Reformation and Elizabeth I’s successor.
Simon Crump’s excellent costume design – together with Julia Grudnowska’s authentically looking wooden-floored open set – further complements the twenty-two-strong cast’s commitment to this slick and very watchable production. Plaudits all round!
- : admin
- : 24/06/2014