Review: The Other Boleyn Girl, Chichester Festival Theatre

Mike Poulton’s adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s novel The Other Boleyn Girl proves a stately affair at Chichester Festival Theatre

“Beds are business ventures”

Though the roundabout of new Artistic Directors at theatres up and down the land continues, we’re now starting to see some of those appointments bear fruit. The Other Boleyn Girl marks Justin Audibert’s debut production for Festival 2024 at Chichester Festival Theatre and perhaps inevitably, definitely wisely, there’s no real rocking of the boat at this stalwart institution of the south coast.

Written in 2001, Philippa Gregory’s novel kickstarted a series of no less than 15 books in her Plantagenet and Tudor Novels series, so it is a little surprising that it has taken over 20 years for it to arrive on stage (it made it onto TV in 2003 and film in 2008). Clocking in at a shade under 3 hours, it is clear that Mike Poulton’s adaptation has taken care to respect its source material, ensuring that the enduring popularity of the Tudors is in no danger here.

The result is something that might seem safe but at the same time, feels archetypally Chichester. Elegant and stately rather than enthralling and startling, Lucy Bailey’s production looks highly striking in the space carved out by Joanna Parker’s hexagonal pit, on which a pleasingly hefty cast carry out their business of retelling selected chapters of Henry VIII’s sex life. Chris Davey’s lighting plays beautifully with the depth of the design too, picking out gorgeous tableaux upstage.

And for all the familiarity of this time period, Gregory and Poulton do tease out a compelling tale of the human cost of dynastic posturing, the Boleyn family’s drive for power and influence in the Tudor court coming at differing but harrowing cost for its three children. Lucy Phelps is excellent as Mary, the one whose life is upended in order to go capture Henry’s attention and it is her throughline, as the title character natch, that guides us through to the possibility of redemption by the end.

That she can do because Freya Mavor’s Anne is the one who lands the debatable prize of chief royal mistress, her powers of haughty seduction coming through but the agonising reality of not being able to deliver an heir creating an emotional vortex, which sucks in brother George (James Corrigan) too – literally. Throw in weighty work from Alex Kingston as their matriarch, appealing work from Jacob Ifan as the cuckolded William Carey, sprightly music from Orlando Gough and it is a quality if conventional package.

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