Theatre Review: Henry VIII @ Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

By Zoe Craig Last edited 96 months ago
Theatre Review: Henry VIII @ Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

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Miranda Raison looks stunning as Ann Bullen (Anne Boleyn) in Henry VIII
If, like this londonista, you grew up with the Tudor soap opera magically enlivening what seemed like every history lesson, you'll probably find lots to like about this production of Henry VIII at Shakespeare's Globe.

Mark Rosenblatt's production is full of pomp and ceremony, and played in full traditional dress: colourful, comically capacious codpieces, long strings of jewels, lots of ermine and acres and acres of gorgeous gothic material. These hugely familiar characters from school certainly look the part, and for history geeks like us, it's brilliant to see them come to life in this rarity: a totally unfamiliar Shakespeare play.

Henry VIII deals with the mid part of Henry's reign; 20 years married to Katherine of Aragon and still searching for that male heir, Henry also has other things to deal with. With a mixture of lively and much more static scenes, (masquerades we like; men standing around politicking about taxes, less so) we witness the slightly episodic rise and fall of the Duke of Buckingham, first wife Catherine, Ian McNeice as a big, fat Cardinal Wolsey, a gorgeous young thing called Ann (Spooks' Miranda Raison) and the least interesting of the pack, Archbishop Cranmer.

Designer Angela Davies has divided up the Globe's stage with simple lines of red carpet, which, along with the secretive shutters in the back wall, gives a sense of the ever-treacherous corridors of power. The nice merging of ends and beginnings of scenes weaves in a feeling of tension between the public and the domestic in Henry's court.

But the greatest triumph in this lesser-known Shakespeare play are the women.

Miranda Raison is utterly beautiful as the young English temptress Ann, and her "I would not be a queen for all the world" scene is fun. Amanda Lawrence shines doubling up as Virginia, a loose-tongued lady-in-waiting, and Henry's slightly creepy Fool paired with a puppet-boy reminder of that longed-for son. And better still is Kate Duchêne as Queen Catherine, who slides from a sassy second figurehead of the Royal court to an extraordinarily dignified dame fighting for her marriage, to a wailing stick-wielding harpy refusing to believe she's no longer royal.

Yes, Henry VIII is a bit static and episodic (purists will point to the fact that Shakespeare didn't write it all). Yes, at three hours, it can sometimes feel a bit of a slog. And yes, we perhaps wanted more from both Ian McNeice (who stumbled over his lines a bit too often) and Dominic Rowan as Henry VIII (a fantastic actor, but perhaps not our casting choice for Henry). But for any fans of English history's big characters, this lavish production of Henry VIII has a lot about it to enjoy.

Henry VIII plays at Shakspeare's Globe Theatre until 21 August. Tickets from £5 to £35. Visit www.shakespeares-globe.org or call 020 7401 9919 for more information.

Last Updated 25 May 2010