Anne Boleyn dramatises the life and legacy of Henry VIII’s notorious second wife, who helped change the course of the nation’s history. Traditionally seen as either the pawn of an ambitious family manoeuvred into the King’s bed; or as a predator cynically manipulating her way to power, Anne – and her ghost – are seen in a very different light in Howard Brenton’s surprising and vivid play.
We are at Hampton Court in 1603. Rummaging through the dead Queen Elizabeth’s possessions, newly enthroned King James I finds alarming evidence that Anne was a religious conspirator, in love with Henry VIII but also with the most dangerous ideas of her day. As James lays the foundation for his own religious legacy (presiding over an irritable gathering of church dignitaries out of which comes the decision to re-translate the Bible) Anne comes alive for him – a brilliant but reckless young woman confident in her sexuality whose marriage, and death, transformed England for ever.
Written in the modern vernacular with a bit of ‘language’, cross dressing, a gay kiss and adult content, this is no stuffy history play, nor is it a straightforward rendition of someone’s interpretation of events. It’s cleverly constructed, fast paced, sexy, scary, and funny, with Anne appearing both spectrally and in ‘flashback’.