Posted By Claire on May 21, 2013
When the Red Rose Chain invited me to see their play Fallen in Love: The Secret Heart of Anne Boleyn, there was no way I could pass up the opportunity of seeing an Anne Boleyn themed play at the Tower of London on the anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s execution. So, off we went for a weekend in London!
The play was performed in the Banqueting Suite of the New Armouries, within the Tower confines, and the audience was limited to around 50 people all seated around a four-poster bed. The small audience, combined with the fact that there were only two actors and they were within your reach, gave the play an intimate feel. As an audience you were right in the middle of the action and as someone on the front row I could have touched the actors, never mind tripped them up! The set was simple – a four-poster bed, which was stripped at the end for another purpose. No complicated scenery and just two actors – Scott Ellis as George Boleyn and Emma Connell as Anne Boleyn – but what an impact the play had on me and, by the looks on their faces at the end, the entire audience.
The play told the story of two famous siblings, Anne and George Boleyn, from the Field of the Cloth of Gold meeting in 1520, when they would have been around 19 and 16, to their brutal deaths in 1536. It focused on their close relationship as brother and sister, but more importantly as best friends, and told the story of their rise and subsequent fall through their conversations, arguments and monologues. Although some newspaper articles have described the play as being about their alleged incestuous relationship, the play does not suggest that Anne and George committed incest. The siblings confide in each other, they share jokes, they argue passionately, they dance together and they even kiss each other on the lips (just a quick kiss), but there is no hint of there being anything more between them. However, what the play does show is how this closeness could be twisted into something else to bring the siblings down.
Anne and George are very similar. They are highly intelligent and don’t suffer fools gladly. They look down on their sister, who has no ambition and who has ‘whored’ herself to two Kings, and they also look down on Jane Parker. The George of the play hates Jane and is very unhappily married. Their union is political, set up by Thomas Boleyn, the Duke of Norfolk and the King, and George is willing to go through with it for the good of the family. George doesn’t want Anne, however, to sell herself for the good of the family. His moving words are “Don’t give in for me. I want no rewards in exchange for my sister’s body. Leave me that at least. I’ll sell myself, but never you.”
At the start of the play, Anne and George are excited about the future. They are happy-go-lucky, free spirits excited about the opportunities their lives at the French and English courts, respectively, have given them. They are charming and witty, and you feel a bit like an older indulgent relative letting them have their fun because you know what the future holds for them. Anne changes quite dramatically through the play as she becomes involved with Henry VIII and realises the cost of their relationship. When she rants and raves, and wishes all Spaniards were at the bottom of the sea, you can understand her pure frustration with the situation. Yes, her words about Catherine and Mary are spiteful, but her feelings are so raw and human, and, understandable in the context they were in.
George doesn’t change as much. Clare Cherry, who came to the play with me, felt that he never matured into the man he would have needed to have become to be a successful politician and respected diplomat. As Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, George became the equivalent of a High Court judge at the age of 29/30, yet we didn’t see that serious side to him. I wonder, perhaps, if it was because we only saw him with Anne, the one person he didn’t have to put airs and graces on for, the person he could relax with. The one time we did see the more serious George was his visit to Anne after he’d seen the bloody executions of the Carthusian monks. His anguish and his genuine grief that he and his sister had started the chain of events which had led to the deaths of good men, was a wonderful piece of acting. Anne saw the executions as the result of the monks’ defiance and disobedience, as the price that had to be paid, whereas George just could not see it like that. In an email to me after the play, Clare Cherry wrote “It was a consequence that George had clearly not envisioned, and you got the impression it may well have been this he was alluding to on the scaffold rather than to any sexual misdemeanours. In that sense I felt Joanna Carrick was more perceptive than some historians.”
We all know how their story ends, but I won’t spoil it by sharing the finer details with you. I was moved to tears. I felt that I was there in the crowd on both 17th and 19th May, and the final scene had a major impact on me. It was beautifully done and was an electrifying performance. Joanna Carrick, the writer and director, says in her introduction in the play’s programme that in telling Anne’s story she had ” ‘meddled with [her]cause’, but we have most decidedly sought throughout to ‘judge the best’ ” and both Clare and I agreed with that. Carrick gave the siblings the respect they are entitled to whilst also giving them flaws that gave balance to their characters and presenting them as human beings. Scott and Emma were perfect in the parts and were the George and Anne of my imagination. When I think of the siblings now, I think of them.
Joanna Carrick had obviously spent an enormous amount of time researching Anne Boleyn’s story. Details like the martyrdom of the Carthusian monks, George’s worry over those who owed him money after his arrest etc. could only be found by someone probing deep into the history of the time. From speaking to Joanna, I know that historical accuracy was important to her and that shone through. It was also obvious from the quality of the acting, and from my conversations with Scott and Emma afterwards, that they cared deeply about the people they were playing. Anyone who knows me well will know that I don’t believe that Thomas Boleyn and the Duke of Norfolk acted as pimps or that Jane and George necessarily had an unhappy marriage, but I can forgive that when so many history books support those ideas. What was important for me was that George’s character was rehabilitated – hurrah!
Thank you to Joanna Carrick and all at the Red Rose Chain for a superb performance and a fitting tribute to Anne and George on the 477th anniversary of their deaths (albeit 2 days late for George!).
You can find out more about Fallen in Love: The Secret Heart of Anne Boleyn and how to book tickets at http://falleninlove2013.blogspot.co.uk/. Don’t miss it!
Here’s a slideshow of photos – enjoy!