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A CurtainUp London London Review
Henry VIII

Sir, I desire you do me right and justice;
And to bestow your pity on me: for I
am a most poor woman, and a stranger,
— Queen Katherine
Henry VIII
Kate Duchìêne as Queen Katherine
(Photo: John Tramper)
Famous for being the play that caused the very first Globe to burn down back in 1613 when some wadding from a stage cannon lit the thatched roof, the Globe takes quite a risk both in the safety and the sanity of its audience by reviving one of Shakespeare's most unpopular plays Henry VIII. Widely regarded as being boring and full of simple pageantry, Mark Rosenblatt's production is inevitably full of pomp, yet it does manage to captivate and intrigue with its turn on the fantastic and memorable Globe Stage that is a must see for any London visitor.

Shakespeare's play misses out a considerable amount of the life of Henry VIII concentrating on only a few key events based around the King's divorce from Katherine of Aragon and her exile to Kimbolton Castle, the downfall and death of Cardinal Wolsey and the wooing and marriage of Anne Boleyn, with the play ending in the birth and christening of the future Queen Elizabeth I. The problem one may have with the play is that it is more an amalgamation of events linked together with traditional Shakespeare theatrical tools, such as the time passing porter scenes also seen in Macbeth, than any deep rooted tragedy or character analysis. Unlike Macbeth we are not treated to much insight into the psychological journey of the play's leading characters except perhaps the torturous downfall and excommunication of Queen Katherine.

There are some fine performances in the cast with Dominic Rowan presenting us with a rather humane and sympathetic Henry. With rich black hair, soft tones and some eloquent speeches about his own guilt towards his behaviour to Katherine we see a Henry that challenges our preconceptions. Kate Duchêne plays an impressive Katherine brazenly showing the torment and distress this woman goes through at the end of her life. At times Duchêne is incredibly captivating yet often a little screechy which can make it hard to focus on what is some of Shakespeare's finest verse. Other noteworthy performances include a rather witty performance from Sam Cox as the Lord Chamberlain and a brief but hilarious Amanda Lawrence as Anne Boleyn's Welsh maid. Ian McNeice, however, largely steals the show as the Cardinal. Forever sweeping across the stage like an overgrown slug, McNeice fills the role with an unsettling presence and deep gravity.

With moments of great direction, Rosenblatt has certainly done his utmost best on a difficult play. If history is your forte and the weather is nice then there is nothing more I could recommend for a nice evening with the bard.

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Henry VIII
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Mark Rosenblatt

Starring: Michael Bertenshaw, Sam Cox, John Cummins, Ben Deery, Mary Doherty, John Dougall, Kate Duchêne, Will Featherstone, Peter Hamilton Dyer, Anthony Howell, Colin Hurley, Amanda Lawrence, Ian McNeice, Miranda Raison, Dominic Rowan, Dickon Tyrell
With: Claire Bond, Chris Courtenay, Michael E. Curran, Trevor Cuthbertson, Nicole Hartley, Holly Beth Morgan
Musicians: Philip Hopkins, Martin Pope, Caroline Radcliffe, Richard Thomas, Adrian Woodward
Designer: Angela Davies
Choreographer: SÎan Williams
Composer: Nigel Hess
Running time: 3 hours including one interval
Box Office: 020 7401 9919
Booking to 21st August 2010
Reviewed by Tim Newns based on 24th May performance at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, London, SE1 9DT

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