How ironic it was that the birth of a healthy Royal prince should be announced during the interval on the opening night of a stunningly good play about the fate of a queen who could not produce a living male heir to the throne of England for Henry VIII, and in a year when Parliament has finally decreed that the first-born should succeed, whether boy or girl.
Howard Brenton’s brilliantly written play, Anne Boleyn, was never going to have a happy ending, but his mission to portray her as a brave, well educated and highly intelligent woman, who was key to the English Reformation, reveals how deeply significant her life was to the religious history of the country.
It sounds heavy, but this production is very funny and a joy and triumph for this hugely talented amateur group from Lincolnshire, which won the Minack Trophy in 2007 with The Madness of George III, and will surely do so again sometime soon.
The production is carried by Natasha Andrew, often simply dressed in a sumptuous ivory shift that contrasts with her long dark hair and beautiful dark eyes, just like Anne’s – a wonderful piece of casting by director David Roberts. She looks the part and she acts the part superbly, even when she has to give us the heads up about the plot, with, yes, her own severed head after her execution at the Tower of London in 1536.
The play works in a series of flashbacks, mapping her seduction by the king, which took seven long years, during which he found a way to divorce his first wife Catherine of Aragon, which also caused a historic split with the Roman Catholic Church. Several more heads were to roll before the Tudor dynasty ended and the Stuart, James VI of Scotland also became England’s king in 1603.
He was a clever man, a supporter of the arts and a peacemaker, who tried to unite the two countries and moderate the many religious beliefs – one of the results was the new translation that became the King James Bible. In this play, Clive Giddings is the king who rather preferred to be a queen, and courts George Villiers (Daniel Carr) with lingering kisses, and a dance that delights the audience. His language is ripe, his body language very tactile.
Colin Plant as Henry cuts a fine figure and Terry Kenny is the scheming Cromwell, working on soundbites and is every inch a Tudor Alastair Campbell, amusingly aided and abetted by John Padwick as Simkin and David Bamford as Sloop. Kevin McCabe is resplendent in scarlet as Cardinal Wolsey and Tony Pearce-Smith is strong as Cecil.
The set designed by the director deftly combines the courts of Henry and James with beautiful heraldry and the costumes by Kay Roberts, Margaret Denton and Heather Butterworth are perfect. See it if you can, this production is head and shoulders above many historical dramas.