Anne Boleyn by Howard Brenton

King Henry VIII steals Anne Boleyn’s heart, having seduced her sister, and then has to work out how to marry Anne. Expect intrigue as the politics of love unfolds in the royal court. Anne is feisty and different. She was sent to the French court when she was fifteen and is therefore more streetwise and less naive than your average courtly young lady. Thrown into the spotlight by Henry’s affection, rumours about Anne Boleyn abound. Thomas Cromwell knows them all, arch Machiavellian schemer that he is.

Kemi Greene acts as Anne Boleyn and has great presence although she is still relatively new to the Brighton Little Theatre Company. Whenever she is on stage she makes sure to capture the audience’s attention. Her characterisation in the script is very good and she delivers her lines with alacrity: she oozes complexity, dancing a dalliance with Henry and flirting zealously with William Tyndale.

The context of this love story is the English Reformation triggered by Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. William Tyndale, acted by Daniel Carr, wrote the first English Bible in the vernacular, previously they were all written in Latin and owned by monks, priests and scholars only – the elite.

Expect some time travel (an artist’s licence) to the reign of James I who was also James VI of Scotland. He is a totally different character, irreverent with acerbic wit – I wouldn’t want to cross James I. I have seen Chris Church before in Blink. He is great fun and acts a range of quite different roles with the same passion, attention to detail and humour. Look out for Chris Church and Kemi Greene, they are both very talented.

I feel the best lines in the script are reserved by Howard Brenton for Cardinal Wolsey masterfully acted by Peter Jukes. In what felt like an effortless performance, Wolsey’s intellect (as well as his love of food) is evident for all to see. Some of his lines are poetic and all of them have substance. I really enjoyed the script and particularly the large number of actors in the cast, demonstrating theatre at its best. It’s good to see some new faces too.

I don’t have the space to mention every actor and direction is faultless. I did enjoy Kez Price’s performance as Thomas Cromwell whose eyes and ears are in every nook and cranny of the court. Like Kemi (as Anne Boelyn), Kez has great presence, submitting only to Cardinal Wolsey and manipulating Henry as craftily and poignantly as all his subjects. Kez is part of the fabric of Brighton Little Theatre and clearly a great asset to the company.

I enjoyed Leigh Ward’s sympathetic presentation of Henry VIII, it feels very natural. Howard Brenton is kind to Henry in his characterisation, arguably at Anne Boleyn’s expense. It is often thus, particularly and not exclusively in period dramas, where men are lifted up and women cast aside or denigrated.

Finally, I must mention Chloe McEwan who plays Lady Rochford. Among the women, Lady Rochford is all-powerful and yet is putty in Thomas Cromwell’s hands on more than one occasion. The politics and misogyny of the court are exposed by Lady Rochford’s plight and fatally Anne Boleyn’s, revealing the powerlessness of being a sixteenth century woman.

I thoroughly enjoyed this play and highly recommend it for its authenticity and humour. It’s not easy to bring to life sixteenth century court in the 21st century and Brighton Little Theatre has done it superbly well. I like the fact that as the audience we know who each character is and there is not too much hat-changing and doubling up. I like Neil Fitzgerald and look forward to seeing more of his work.

As a post-pandemic play, it could hardly have been better to bring the company together, including a significant number of new members. I look forward to seeing more of them in future.

***** Five stars