Anne Boleyn is widely known as the woman who charmed a king and lost her head for it. Howard Brenton’s eponymous play, now playing at The Loft Theatre, shows her to have been far more than a pretty wife. She was a serious political player in an age when religion and politics were inseparable. Without her there might have been no Church of England, no Civil War, no King James Bible. We might even still be a Catholic country.
Such claims hinge on the character of Anne, here played with consummate skill by Julia Findlay. She is too intelligent, too energetic, and too committed to her faith to play the docile child-bearing wife she was supposed to be. She was the power behind the throne, who ultimately persuaded the king (Mark Roberts) of his right to challenge the authority of the Pope.
The theme of the play is drawn out by its time-shifting involvement of King James I (Pete Meredith), a vulgar, boozy, cross-dressing clown with a mind as sharp as a razor. He discovers Anne’s own copy of William Tyndale’s translation of the Bible in an old chest of clothes worn by her mother and later adopted by him. Such a book is a curiosity now, but then it set the world on fire.
The Loft bring a big cast to the stage, directed with a fine attention to detail by Tara Lacey. All the great characters are there, but not quite as we know them. Dave Crossfield’s Thomas Cromwell, for example, is a vicious, cold manipulator whom you’d be wise to steer clear of.
This is a superb production, and a thrilling tale, with performances that rise to the occasion at every level.
* Anne Bolyen runs at the Loft Theatre until Saturday October 30. Visit www.lofttheatrecompany.com or call 01926 830680 to book.