Billed as a performance that came with a ‘historical health warning’, I took my seat cautiously. While I didn’t find my knowledge of history challenged or my sides aching from laughter, Barnes’ production of Anne Boleyn was peppered with light wit and provided a platform for a strong performance by Alex-Oliviere-Davies in the leading role.
The storytelling is this productions strength; Barnes genteelly guides the audience between time periods and settings heightened by the masterful jocularity of Howard Brentons script. Boleyn’s life is depicted from her developing relationship with Henry VIII mirrored only in passion by her Protestant beliefs and devotion to the texts of William Tyndale. Guided by the bonds of scripture she finds an unlikely and maybe unwise companion in Cromwell leading to her ultimate demise. Wonderful opportunities to link the stories of James I and Boleyn are sadly lost in this production despite an enlightening yet brief scene between the two lead characters who carried the pace, weight and energy for the show that left me wishing for a longer interaction.
The costumes and props provided a simple but clear glimpse in to the world of Tudor and Jacobean England. The representational minimalist set however, gave little support to the cast as it altered between scenes illustrating a 67 year time change. The emptiness of space and many entrances seemed to stifle the movement rendering scenes to that of manikins where muttered asides often failed to reach an audiences confiding ear.
For all its frail staging, the cast work diligently to deliver lines and create the banter, wit and passion led by the commanding performance by Alex-Oliviere-Davies as Anne Boleyn mastering the contemporary bite of Brenton’s script. Davies decrees the audience’s attention from opening speech to closing bow. In contrast, Steve Huggins lightens the mood and pace with his quirky portrayal of James I who’s flirtatious quarrels and twitches make him a watchable character indeed.