First staged in 2010, Howard Brenton’s Anne Boleyn was commission for Shakespeare’s Globe. It celebrates Anne’s life and legacy with a new, compelling view of this multi-faceted, iconic figure.
RUNNING TIME:2hrs 50mins including interval
TICKETS: From £12 (limited availability)
DATES: Until Saturday, July 14 at 7.30pm with 2pm matinee on Saturday
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Off with her head
Political ambition, intrigue, plot and counter-plot and the desire to break away from an entrenched power base at the centre of Europe, no matter the cost...such is the stuff of Howard Brenton’s marvellous Anne Boleyn, now showing at Bristol’s Tobacco Factory Theatre.
Plus ca change, eh?
Henry VIII’s split from Europe (in this case, the Church of Rome) was arguably more violent than our own Brexit will be, yet at the heart of both his ‘great matter’ and our present troubles sits a woman doomed by fortune.
We don’t yet know the fate of Theresa May, but odds on it will involve a political decapitation that won’t be as bloody as Anne’s, but no less dramatic for that.
The story of Anne – ambitious, alluring and determined to have her man without compromising her virtue – is very deftly handled by Bristol’s Kelvin Players, arguably the best amateur dramatic society in the South West.
And it’s easy to see why.
Every moment of this performance is handled with outstanding professionalism and attention to detail.
Although verging three hours long, the pace of the play never flags in its efforts to present a truly human story amid the politicking.
The discovery of the deceased Anne’s coronation gown and (banned) prayer book in an old trunk is a reminder to the newly-crowned James I (Steve Dale) that on-going religious squabbles in his kingdom need to be addressed.
The story then steps back more than 60 years, to Anne’s early dalliances with Henry (Ben Culverhouse) and his realisation that to have her, he must necessarily divorce Katherine of Aragon and defy the Pope.
Necessarily, there is a lot of history to cram in here and without careful handling this could have been a very long lesson indeed.
However, Rosie Closs’s portrayal of Anne is handled superbly.
Her determination and vulnerability shine through, and there is humour and warmth too, especially the scenes in which she is speaking from the afterlife.
The play cannily exposes the machinations of powerful men, not least Cardinal Wolsey (David Alexander) and the conniving Thomas Cromwell (Tim Whitten), whose condemnation of Anne masks his own deviance, dragging the upstanding Lady Rochford (Martha Holly) into betraying her friend as a sexual adventuress.
Personally speaking, it’s high time that more amateur groups have the chance to shine on the country’s professional stages.
‘Anne Boleyn’ proves there is a wealth of talent and enthusiasm prepared to go far beyond the type of light comedies am-dram groups are (unfairly) renowned for.
This production could have graced any professional stage from here to the West End - let’s see and hear more of such collaborations in the future.