James Stuart is not the first figure you would expect to perform a major role in a drama about the Tudors. But Howard Brenton's inventive new play celebrates the legacy as well as the life of Henry VIII's second wife. So Anne Boleyn's rise and fall is seen in the light of its impact on James I, who is, literally, haunted by her.
Hunting through a chest of Anne's clothes, James discovers two banned books – William Tyndale's New Testament and the same author's The Obedience of a Christian Man, which argues that kings owe direct allegiance to God, rather than the Pope. Anne's jottings indicate that she pressed these works on Henry. It seems she was an undercover agent for the Protestant revolution.
The play bursts through the constraints of costume drama. Brenton understands how to work the audience at the Globe, which is a brilliant forum for intellectual debate provided it is leavened with irreverent humour. Theological disputes at the Hampton Court Conference are a dramatic highlight – presided over by James Garnon's James, a pint-sized bisexual Scot of nervous tics and crude manners who is also a canny operator.
John Dove's production fields a wonderful central performance from Miranda Raison, as a woman of passionate beliefs and intelligent mettle, well able to keep Anthony Howell's lithe, dashing Henry on the hook or to face down Colin Hurley's repulsive Cardinal Wolsey. The real Anne never met Tyndale but Brenton produces two encounters.
The ending feels anti-climactic. The heroine's downfall is under-prepared and there is insufficient sizzle in her eventual, ghostly summit with James. But in its rich, quirky evocation of period and animated mix of fervent seriousness and strip-cartoon fun, this is a stimulating companion to Shakespeare's Henry VIII, with which it runs in rep.
To 21 August (020 7401 9919; Shakespeares-globe.org)Reuse content