When you do not live in London near the world famous Globe Theatre being able to see great theatre regionally becomes essential. Though up and down the country small theatres boast spectacular productions from amature and professional companies, being able to see plays of international quality is sadly rare.
In Brighton the Theatre Royal is a theatre you can guarantee to showcase some of the biggest touring productions giving sold out local audiences the opportunity to get involved with theatre. Their latest production is the English Touring Theatre’s Anne Boleyn by Howard Breton.
It would be impossible to undersell this production, it is wordy and complex, taking on a great amount of history and time yet mixing it up slightly with modern tweaks. Though the modern elements of the play, mainly language, don’t aid the production it did seem to weaken it somewhat.
The staging was bare but for a tree with a scattering of lights. Above a curtained divide with the interloping monogram H & A would sit part of the small orchestra who would be performing live throughout the play adding a wealth of realism and time and place to the play. The actors came onto stage and accepted their applause and came and played, talked and joked with the crowd which on first glance was a good touch but seemed to run too long and laid the scene for what would come.
Breton’s use of language, at times, was coarse and didn’t benefit the performances. The usage of ‘fuck’ frankly cheapened those scenes where it was used and produced an uncomfortable tension that didn’t need to be there.
It seemed that there were two plays being performed, the classical, or more historical/traditional, and the modern, playful easily accessible one. In the case of the former when the production kept to a more historical line it shone with actors, script, music and direction in perfect sync. But in the case of the latter the modern approach – addressing the audience, and the occasional monologues dampened the feel of the play and it became too pantomime-like, the interval joke did get a big laugh out of the audience but seemed to pander to them.
"There is a risk in having visible live music during a production in that it risks doing one of two things, cheapening the production or adding to it in a way that becomes near impossible to understand."
John Dove, director, makes some wonderful decisions yet his sense and use of space is commendable as is his ability to bring to life a very heavy and complex piece of work. The historical accounts truly engaged the audience and at times one found oneself listening intently as though one was listening to a history lecture but this slips when the certain modern inflections are used and the subtly is thrown out the window.
Jo Herbert, Anne Boleyn, and David Sturzaker, Henry VIII, had a palpable chemistry and from their first meeting you get the sense of this most majestic love affair. Herbert brought a huge sense of dignity and vertue to the her character making the Queen someone misunderstood but never stupid or nieve. Her inevitable downfall and the betrayal by Cromwell came across as sincere and still she gave Anne Boleyn a great sense of self and understanding with the occasional flexes of feminist revolutionary – the scene in which she manipulates Henry VIII about the banned writings of William Tyndale was one a the few rare moments of her [Anne's] more devious abilities.
One of the most remarkable features the production had was the unique use of music which was preformed throughout on stage above the actors. At times they where acknowledged by the actors and at others they simply slipped into tune like a well oiled machine. Just the three of them brought a real sense of time, pace, and subtly that ached with beauty. There is a risk in having visible live music during a production in that it risks doing one of two things, cheapening the production or adding to it in a way that becomes near impossible to understand.
The production is fast with multiple layers and has a lot of interchanging characters and there are some really funny moments. However King James VI/I, James Garnon, was played at times, so much like a ‘lad’ there seemed to be no royalty to him at all. Garnon's accent and slight inflections once again pleased the audience but lacked a little authenticity.
Anne Boleyn has a lot of strengths and thought this was the first night of their week long run at the Theatre Royal Brighton it felt as though they had been there for a season which says a great deal to the level the English Touring Theatre are at. The play limits itself with the odd combination of the classical and modern elements that don’t work that well and the interaction with the audience was too much. That said the performances were strong and convincing with exceptional direction that never seemed to miss a beat.