Modern history is a curious thing. Media makes us witness statements made by celebrity, royalty and common people whose so-called "reality" is recorded for us to hear and see. Something said ten years ago can be researched quickly and documents and video clips found.
Historians of today must have it easier then say, five centuries ago. But what of that far past, when what was said and done only witnessed by people long dead and scribbled into scrolls long destroyed or preserved; locked away in some vault.
"Anne Boleyn" tells a tale of a woman centuries gone, but who left an indelible mark on English history, purportedly helping to bring about her country’s transition from Catholicism to Protestantism. It is British playwright Howard Brenton’s take on her life that places a spin on what we have previously known about this woman, weaving this drama with laugh-out-loud humor and speculation.
Opening with King James I, 80 some-odd years after her death, he is curious about her life and suspects her ghost is still about, finding some of her belongings, including dresses, an old Bible and book. Through flashbacks we are shown of Anne’s great plan, though not obvious at the outset, we are drawn into Brenton’s clever dialogue.
Madeline Lambert as Anne throws herself into the part with gleeful abandon; her quick and witty delivery make us like her character immediately.
As King Henry VIII, Steve Kidd is competent as the frustrated ruler who wants Anne as his mistress, only to be shot down year after year. As Robert Cecil, Sam Babbitt is a great comic foil for King James. It is the relationship between James (Tony Estrella) and George Villiers (Joe Short) that brings us most of the laughs as they hint at more than flirtation (and a passionate kiss) is happening behind castle doors.
Estrella’s King James is humorous and while his Scottish accent could be a distraction for some, his delivery was quite easy to understand. The rest of the cast compliment our leads quite effectively, notably Tom Gleadow as Cardinal Wolsey, and Casey Seymour Kim as Lady Rochford.
Jim O’Brien’s Thomas Cromwell is key as the man who would entrap Boleyn and his performance is appropriately dark. Director Rachel Walshe knows her material quite well, her pacing is smooth and the dialogue is kept quickly moving. The show runs at slightly more than two hours but we aren’t aware of it.
Jessica Hill’s static set design works perfectly for the piece which is more talk than action. The costumes are grand; designer David T. Howard deserves props for these, especially those of Boleyn and Henry VIII.
Howard Brenton’s Anne Boleyn previously played at Shakespeare’s Globe theater in London for two seasons (2010 and 2011) to excellent reviews and makes its Stateside debut here in Rhode Island for the first time. Part drama, part comedy and ghost story, this is one account of History that will surely entertain.
"Anne Boleyn" is running through Feb. 24 at The Gamm Theater, 172 Exchange St., Pawtucket, RI 02860. For tickets or info, call 401-723-4266 or visit gammtheater.org.