Another revisit to a play in a month that has seen a fair few and once again, it was to a play I hadn’t intended to see for a second time. This time it was Howard Brenton’s Anne Boleyn which premiered at the Globe last summer and which seriously impressed as a piece of new writing which managed to bring a potentially very dry historical subject to vibrant life, both enlightening and amusing audiences in equal measure and earning its star, the luminous Miranda Raison, a Best Actress fosterIAN nomination. When it was first announced that it was returning as part of the 2011 Globe Season, the lacking of accompanying casting news led me (and others) to suspect that she would not be returning with the production and so I was quite happy not to bother seeing it again. Sod’s law dictated that Raison did indeed return though and so my resistance was quickly work down and a visit made to the penultimate performance of the run.
My review from last year can be read here and little has changed in that I really did love it just as much second time round. I’d forgotten just how witty it was from start to finish and just how well-written the whole thing is, but particularly the role of Anne. It really is a superb part, shedding a brand new light on a historical figure of whom so much has already been said, but Brenton makes a convincing case for her as a truly unique figure, dazzling with intelligence but also possessed of reckless abandon in the pursuit of her goals. And Miranda Raison breathes such delightful life into her portrayal, brimming with self-confidence and a self-assurance that allows her to dominate Henry VIII for years whilst his divorce with ‘the Aragon cow’ is sorted out yet makes her entirely likeable.
But Brenton’s play really works in the way that he folds in the second story, that of James I’s investigations into Anne’s legacy as he struggles to assert his authority having just come to the throne himself and needing to find a way to deal with the question of religion that is causing so much trouble. Brenton resists the temptation to mix up the narratives too much, instead focusing on telling each one with clarity and simplicity and thus proving all the more effective for it. New arrivals to the company, Sophie Duval (replacing Amanda Lawrence) and Julius D’Silva (replacing John Dougall) both did extremely well: Duval’s warmth as Lady Rochford made her the ideal companion for Anne and D’Silva’s strong presence as Thomas Cromwell made quite a different impact from Dougall’s more slippery interpretation but a powerfully convincing one.
But it was James Garnon’s outrageous extemporising that made it a truly memorable afternoon at the theatre: his James I is already full of tics and mannerisms but the way in which he responded to and worked in the peskily hovering helicopter was just hilarious. Even that was overshadowed by the events of early in the second half when he began to tease an audience member who had been guzzling beer and still eating his wrap though the play had recommenced: the way he managed to direct the most appropriate of lines at this guy was pure genius and broke Colin Hurley and then about half the cast who suffered from a serious case of corpsing, their giggles pretty much taking them over: moments like that make live theatre unmissable and feel very apt in the unique relationship that is built between cast and audience at the Globe.
So definitely worth the revisit, the run ends on Sunday so there’s no more chances to see it at the Globe. But it has just been announced that English Touring Theatre will be touring the show next year around the country so keep your eyes peeled for dates as it will be well worth the trip.