Theatre review: Anne Boleyn, Q Theatre

By Paul Simei-Barton

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Jullienne outstanding in lead role as ATC delivers a lavish and thought-provoking view of Reformation.

Anna Jullienne as Anne Boleyn and Stephen Lovatt as a gay King James. Photo / Michael Smith
Anna Jullienne as Anne Boleyn and Stephen Lovatt as a gay King James. Photo / Michael Smith

Although he has a wicked sense of humour British playwright Howard Brenton takes his history seriously and ATC's sumptuous production of Anne Boleyn offers a bracingly intelligent vision of the Reformation as it plunges us into the complex theological disputes that underpinned Henry VIII's marital discord.

The play presents a dazzling interpretation of how the Protestant revolution destroyed the idea of a singular truth derived from a unanimously recognised authority and ushered in the modern world with all the chaotic uncertainties that accompany individual freedom.

All this is served up in a Baz Luhrmann style mash-up that has wildly contrasting genres, time-periods and music shaken together in an explosively potent cocktail.

Anne Boleyn is constantly morphing from coquettish flirt to Protestant conspirator, diabolical enchantress, devout Christian, and forlorn victim of ruthless intrigues. It is a heady mix that Anna Jullienne carries off as a thoroughly modern woman who finds personal liberation in a sustained exercise of willpower and self-belief.

ATC has assembled a dream cast with minor roles being given to some of our most distinguished actors. But even in this exalted company Paul Minifie almost manages to steal the show with a magnificent portrayal of Cardinal Wolsey.

His electrifying confrontations with Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell are dramatic highlights and the play loses some intensity as it jumps forward in time to present King James as an openly gay, sybaritic Scotsman played in the style of Billy Connolly by Stephen Lovatt.

There is insufficient space to mention the many fine performances but George Henare and Ken Blackburn are the perfect courtiers who combine oleaginous sycophancy with cutting sarcasm while Peter Daube's turn as Protestant leader William Tyndale gives a disorienting reminder that the Church of England began life as a subversive underground rebellion.

Theatre

What: Anne Boleyn
Where: Q Theatre, until July 13.

- NZ Herald

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