Photo: Stephen Cummiskey

Tudor histories fascinate, the intrigues, deceits, murderous intent and of course murder most real, make for great drama and in Mike Poulton’s hands Philippa Gregroy’s novel comes vibrantly to life on the stage at Chichester Festival Theatre’s first production of the 2024 season.

And all this is brought together so beautifully in the deft hands of director Lucy Bailey. Bailey has framed the story so well that time and place run together both seamlessly but also with a lucidity often missing in a staging as visually simple as this is. Joanna Parker’s set is a triumph of style and imagination, Chris Parker’s lighting equally impressive and Orlando Gough’s original music, tinged with recognisable motifs, brings the whole to life.

Photo: Stephen Cummiskey

The Boleyn Family are driven by ambition and greed, Anne’s uncle played by Andrew Woodall is blacker than black, Machiavellian in intent, her mother Lady Elizabeth played beautifully by Alex Kington, is as dark but that darkness shrouded in a stoic dignity, but how much more I wanted from her, not in the performance but in the writing.

I was equally disappointed that the piece pays mere lip service to the homosexual love of George Boleyn with Francis Weston. Both James Corrigan and Peter Losasso delivering what they were given with skill but sadly not very much on that thread. Of course George Boleyn has far more to deliver in the telling of the story of Anne and the other Boleyn girl Mary and his relationship with both sisters is finely crafted and performed

Anne is played powerfully by Freya Mavor, brittle, entitled, arrogant and yet fragile, it’s a fine performance that carries the story forward with real energy. Mary is played by Lucy Phelps with equal drive but with a gentleness that offers that much needed contrast. It’s a portrayal wrought with real skill, with a tenderness that emphasises the harsh realities and cruelty of the Tudor court.

The whole piece is very satisfyingly delivered, the core of the story presented with clarity, the atmosphere, the oppressive tone, the stench and visceral horrors of miscarriage are tangible. Henry VIII’s brief appearances cleverly are marginalised making the story all about those extraordinary women, and, at the end, we are spared some gory representation of Anne’s death as they simply recede into the depths of the cleverly conceived set and into darkness.

If you want silliness and song go see Six, if you want great theatre then get along to The Other Boleyn Girl!

Andrew Kay

27 April

Chichester Festival Theatre


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