Anne Boleyn, Kelvin Players at Tobacco Factory Theatres

FOR their 250 production, Bristol-based Kelvin Players, who have been entertaining local audiences since 1929, decide to leave the security of their own well-equipped studio theatre in Gloucester Road and take over the Tobacco Factory Theatre for the week.

Already used to presenting plays “in the round” at their home base, the company had no trouble in fitting their production of Howard Brenton’s Anne Boleyn into that format at the Tobacco Factory.

Avoiding some of the authors more gruesome tendencies – Anne’s ghost presenting her own severed head to the audience drew more laughter than gasps of horror – director Jacqs Graham nevertheless pulled few punches as she told the tale of Anne’s rise from lady of the court to Queen and death on the scaffold, outmaneuvered by her once fellow plotters. Jacqs believes that Brenton’s  Anne is a truly contemporary woman, brilliant, brave and a little reckless. That may be true but in this production she is also a scheming political plotter. willing to forge alliances with some doubtful bedfellows in order to achieve her aim of becoming Queen and bringing about tremendous  religious changes.

While you never feel that Rosie Closs’ Anne is an innocent seduced by Henry VIII and his court, she does fully convey the deep religious fervour and strength of will within this woman, battling a male dominated society. There was a little too much of the spoilt boy than the selfish all- powerful king in Ben Culverhouse’s always-confident Henry to make him completely believable, but there were not soft edges in Tim Whitten’s Thomas Cromwell, prepared to sacrifice all comers in his quest to become the all powerful Lord Chancellor of England.

Among those who fell by the wayside were David Alexander, overcoming some poorly placed body padding as a splendidly self-important Cardinal Wolsey, and Steve Graham’s lovely rustic William Tyndale.

Interwoven with Anne’s story we move on approximately 100 years to the beginning of James I’s reign. Equipped with a splendid, occasionally too intense Scottish accent, Steve Dale makes the King skittish and full of fun as he teases Phil Joyner’’s pompous Robert Cecil and Martin Walsh and Mike Lucket as intransigent opposing religious leaders. He also forces these solid establishment figures to accept his gay relationship with Nathan Richards George Villiers. Steve Dale consolidated this portrait with a beautifully judged drunken scene as he goes in search of Anne Boleyn’s ghost.

This is a long (three hours) and complex play which cleverly mixes fact with fiction, and in the hands of this committed director and company rarely looses its way. Having on this occasion having had to battle against World Cup Football and a heatwave to attract an audience, it is to be hoped that this will not put off this ambitious group from bringing their talents to the Tobacco Factory again in the not too distant future.


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