at Shakespeare's Globe
The pillars are sprouting shoots and leaves; the actors are at hand, chatting to those groundlings within reach, and more awkwardly, to the Middle Gallery. Nothing profound [“so then, Anne Boleyn, witch, whore or wronged woman?”], but the sort of stuff our own dear Queen might ask [“have you been here before?”].
Then Jon Banks's band strikes up one of Henry VIII's greatest hits, and we're away, with Miranda Raison's modern Anne charming the Globe, teasing the audience, pulling her story [religion, execution] out of the bag, then fast forward 67 years to James I – a big bold performance from James Garnon, playing his second Scottish King this season. Government by show of glory – all those Elizabethan frocks on a rail – and his fetish, Anne Boleyn's marriage gown.
Time is a recurrent motif – five hours later, a fifteen-minute interval, thirteen lucid seconds between the blade and oblivion.
Religion, too, of course. Puritans, Presbyterians, protestants, conspirators for Christ. A meeting with Tyndale in the woods; pleading in vain with Cromwell's implacable back. 'Priest', 'Church' and 'Charity' in James's new Bible, drafted by the best scholars, with poets “for the odd felicitous phrase”.
Not to mention politics – the men and the money, “the mighty and the mice”.
John Dove's production never puts a foot wrong, with strong input from the Henry VIII company, though only Raison keeps the same character. Anthony Howell is even younger and fitter than Dominic Rowan's Henry, Colin Hurley blusters as “Woolly” Wolsey, and John Dougall is a cold, hard Cromwell. And on the distaff side, Amanda Lawrence, a memorable Fool in Henry VIII, was Lady Rochford, later to share the fate of another “unfaithful” queen, Katherine Howard.
In an ending which recalls Brenton's In Extremis as well as Shaffer's Amadeus, Boleyn returns to address us, “demons of the future” and ask God's blessing on us all. Followed, as ever, by the jig, with the whole company – Simpkin, Cecil, clerics, courtiers and countryfolk – enjoying the Globe atmosphere with the capacity crowd.