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Anne Boleyn/Malvern Theatres
SEXUAL predator, pawn in the deadly game that was Tudor politics… witch even. And once she ceased to be fit for purpose, off came that pretty head.
From an English rural backwater to the executioner’s block in little more than three years - no wonder she became the stuff of myth and legend.
Jo Herbert as the girl herself rapidly dissuades us of such stereotypical notions in Howard Brenton’s fascinating re-examination of the evidence.
To be sure, she is entranced by the young Henry VIII – yet to become the obscene, bloated pile of tradition – but is also intrigued by the radical new thinking of the day.
For she has drunk from the cup of a dangerous new brew called Protestantism, a creed that would one day help to make her native land a leading player on the world stage.
Herbert dominates throughout, as she leads the scheming Thomas Cromwell, played with delicious menace by Julius D’Silva, a merry dance through Henry’s court.
But in an interesting reversal of roles, it is David Sturzaker’s Henry who becomes the greatest dupe of all, his eyes so dazzled by Anne’s beauty that he cannot see the times are changing.
Not even the more measured but poisonous approach of a truly toxic Cardinal Wolsey (Colin Hurley) can provide the wise counsel so badly needed as he wrestles with self-doubt, frustration and naked jealousy.
James Garnon neatly wraps up this new take on the ill-fated queen as we fast-forward several decades to a very different England. His portrayal of a stuttering, despotic James I serves as a timely reminder that the course of destiny can so often hinge on the actions of people who, although presumed to be bit-part players, are actually the real powers behind thrones.