Star rating – 7/10
The Globe have put on a little performed later Shakespearean play as part of their ‘Kings & Rogues’ season, Henry VIII. And it was also my first taste of standing in the courtyard for the three hour performance, so I am sure my enjoyment of the play was tempered by my aching legs by the end of the night.
The story of how Henry fell in love with Anne Boleyn, divorced Katherine of Aragon, and was prepared to split from Rome and the Catholic Church to do so is a familiar one of course. But this play also centres on Cardinal Wolsey and his own part in the plotting and subsequent downfall. Indeed it is Wolsey and Katherine, rather than Henry and Anne, who are the central characters here.
There is much conspiracy, corruption and power hungry goings on involved – some of which I confess were a little hard to follow completely. And I do wonder just how much time has to elapse before we can be objective enough about historical events to do them justice in a piece of theatre. After all, Elizabeth I had only died 10 years before this play was first performed at the original Globe in 1613 (the old theatre actually burnt down whilst it was being performed – no such high drama this evening). And it is about her mother, so maybe the bard and his alleged co-author John Fletcher struggled to bring as much perspective as was achieved with acclaimed masterpieces such as Henry V or Julius Caesar (although these were not particularly historically accurate plays either).
But the costumes and general splendour of Henry’s court were magnificent. Ian McNeice was very convincing, if worryingly obese, as Wolsey, and Kate Duchêne was magnificent as the wronged, feisty, yet dignified and loyal Queen Katherine. The whole Globe atmosphere, with the actors freely mingling with the courtyard crowd is great, but I bet Queen Elizabeth didn’t have to stand for three hours to enjoy the original Elizabethan experience.