Writer: Joanna Carrick
Director: Joanna Carrick
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
‘Love may not suit the Boleyns’. So claims Anne Boleyn’s brother George; however, in King Henry’s Tudor Court, love is a potent currency that can both win favour but also be a dangerous political weapon.
In Tudor Court a young Anne Boleyn is all too aware that affections can win titles, land and position in Court. She’s ambitious and yet initially somewhat disparaging about the cult-like adoration of King Henry. It’s her younger brother George who seems more politically astute and aware of the potential ‘skills’ his sister offers.
It’s an intriguing balance of power – he the rising star of Court becoming eclipsed by his sister’s rise through the Royal Household, she the initial innocent and reluctant bride who becomes Queen. It’s a rare moment in Tudor politics where a woman holds the power, but the keys to this King’s heart prove faltering and temporary. Both eventually become seduced by the power of the throne, both eventually destroyed by its tempestuous flame – their ambition no match for the Monarch’s shifting favours.
While the story of Anne’s doomed marriage is well explored, her relationship with brother George, her closest confidante, is less well trodden but Joanna Carrick’s script gives a fascinating glimpse into the human heart behind the historical poster girl. A tale of a brother and sister who are drawn like moths to the bright light of the Court, who think they can play the fame but ultimately prove too young, too innocent to survive.
There are compelling performances from Emma Connell and Scott Ellis as the doomed siblings, real chemistry between the two that makes the piece utterly believable.
Ellis gives his George an initially relaxed air, the young political protégée enjoying the trappings of Court, slightly naïve and in awe of the potentials of Courtly life. As events develop, however, Ellis transforms into a man who recognises the perilous position of the Boleyns, rallies against the more extreme policies of Henry and comes to terms with the consequences of the siblings’ innocent, almost childlike, confidences. Ellis’ performance is pitched perfectly, bringing to life a man overshadowed in history by his more famous sister.
Emma Connell has arguably the bigger challenge, cutting through all the myth and legend that surrounds Anne Boleyn. It’s a challenge Connell more than meets, allowing us to discover Anne afresh, unlaboured with preconception. Like Ellis’ George, Connell handles the rise and fall of power well, displaying a wide eyed innocence at the outset, transforms into a woman seduced by power and ultimate destroyed by a love she doesn’t understand but refuses to relinquish even at the end.
Carrick’s direction keep s the action flowing well, shifting us from scene to scene swiftly across the years and allowing the tragedy to unfold before us, two pawns who think they can play the political game ultimately destroyed. The pace quickening as the pairs fate becomes sealed.
There’s no doubt though that in spite of all the political manoeuvring love is still at the heart of this tale. Anne clearly loves the Monarch who has deserted her while the familial love between the siblings provides their true solace.
Originally staged in 2011 in a yurt tent, the piece is now given added poignancy being played in the Tower of London, the location of the Boleyn’s final imprisonment and scene of their execution, he just outside the castle walls on Tower Hill, she mere feet away from the stage in the Tower grounds.
It adds an extra dimension to the piece and one can’t help but imagine the spirits of the pair overseeing the staging, a tragic pair overwhelmed by the institution embodied in the historical walls surrounding us. Realising that this is the very day, 477 years ago that George was executed just feet away from this stage, to be followed two days later by Anne, sends a shiver down the spine but regardless of the date this proves to be a potent ode to the destructive force of ambition but at a more human level a testament to the power of love. A beautiful yet devastating production that will have audiences falling in love with it over and over again.
Runs at both The Tower of London and Gippeswyck Hall Ipswich until June 16