Anne Boleyn, Globe Theatre, London, July 2010

This play has a wonderful role for the eponymous heroine, and Miranda Raison portrayed her superbly as an attractive, sexy, and determined young woman, more than a match for everyone at court except Thomas Cromwell. He — the man who engineered her downfall — was played here by John Dougall as sure-footed and ruthless, ready to abuse his power as he saw fit.

Miranda Raison as Anne Boleyn, photo by Manuel Harlan

The story is that he destroys Anne before she can warn the king about his maladministration of funds from the dissolution of the monasteries. But hadn’t the king tired of her? Didn’t he find Jane Seymour an attractive alternative to a wife who failed to produce a son? If so this play showed no attraction of the king towards Jane Seymour. She appeared only to be a tool of Cromwell, put in at the last minute, and the king’s affections for Anne never seemed to diminish. Yes, it may well be true that had Anne produced a son her position would have been impregnable, and yes this play did show that the birth of a deformed baby was an important factor, but it seemed as if the king’s role was subservient to that of Cromwell, which was odd. Did Anne really meet William Tyndale, during a journey he made secretly to England? In this play she met him twice, but the second meeting was unconvincing. Tyndale’s acolytes were very rude to her, yet she kept pleading with them. Surely a woman as shrewd as Anne, brought up with the intrigues of the French court, would have had little patience with deliberate insults, and backed out of an impossible situation.

Act I built up a steady momentum, and I liked Anne’s announcement of a fifteen minute intermission as she scuttled off to the bedroom with the king, but Act II suddenly transported us nearly seventy years into the future. All at once we were faced with James VI of Scotland, successor to Anne’s daughter Queen Elizabeth. And then the play switched unpredictably between past and future. History tells us that Anne was beheaded at the Tower of London, and some say that her ghost walks there still. Perhaps it does, but did James I of England see it, as he did in this play by Howard Brenton, directed by John Dove? At one level we seemed to be at a history lesson, but with so many laughs for the audience I could no longer to take it seriously.

James Garnon played a wittily serious James VI — he was after all a highly educated man whose intellect was often underrated — and Anthony Howell portrayed a virile and attractive Henry VIII. In the recent Globe production of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey showed immense gravitas, before having the ground cut from under him by Anne Boleyn, but here Colin Hurley played him as an irascible weakling. Perhaps that was the intention, but the contrast between the two plays was ill judged, unless we are supposed to take them as fictions bearing little resemblance to history. I very much liked Sam Cox as Dean Lancelot Andrewes, and Peter Hamilton Dyer as William Tyndale, and I loved the costumes by Hilary Lewis. Anne’s dresses were glorious, and Miranda Raison’s smouldering sex appeal and assertive shrewdness in that role was by far the most vital thing about this play.

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