Playwright Howard Brenton urges a very different view of Anne Boleyn in his play of the same name which heads for the Theatre Royal Brighton from Tuesday-Saturday, April 3-7.
A celebration of a great English heroine, Anne Boleyn leaps cunningly between generations to expose the life and legacy of Henry VIII’s notorious second wife.
Anne Boleyn is traditionally seen either as a pawn or a predator, or even a witch. But Howard Brenton puts forward a very different Anne, as Will Featherston, who plays Sloop in the piece, explains.
“It had always been a dream of our writer to write about this period of history very much from a reformist point of view. I think he wanted very much to shun those ideas that she was merely a sexually-licentious predator figure or that she was just pushed around by the men in the court.
“In this, she stands up for herself and fights for what she believes in. It seems to me that the play was written by a man who is very much in love with her. She is presented in such a way that she is formidable, very sexy, fiercely intelligent and very very witty.”
As Will says, it’s a hilarious play - but one which the next moment can drop you down into the great imponderables and all seriousness.
“It is written in such a way that it suggests that she is actually responsible for the way that we all behave now. It’s a fascinating portrait.
Inevitably, given her character, she was perceived as a threat in some quarters at court: “The King saw all these things in her and that was disastrous. The world got very very muddied.”
The church felt threatened by the King’s love for Anne - and love her he did certainly did: “That’s the story that we are telling, but actually it was part of her downfall. There is a poignant moment in the play when the King has to let her go when he realises it has reached the point that England absolutely does need a male heir. The fact that she has produced a daughter and then miscarried means that Henry has to swallow his pride and move on Jane Seymour.”