Henry VIII is notorious as the play which burned down the original Globe when its thatched roof was set on fire by the cannon shot saluting the entrance of the King in an early scene. To modern taste, that disaster has come to look like a shrewd critical verdict on the play. It's no surprise that the reconstructed Globe has only now got round to presenting the play in a vivid, robust, and winningly well-conceived production by Mark Rosenblatt.
His staging manages to pull off the considerable trick of giving full due to the nostalgic, propagandistic elements in this Shakespeare/ Fletcher collaboration, while also highlighting and extending the flickering moments of subversive acknowledgement that there is a much less "official" version of events which cover the contentious birth of the English Reformation. So though the production pulls all the stops out in a blaze of mitres, ivory silk, boy choristers in the gallery, and trumpet acclaim for the culminating baptism and Cranmer's prophecy of future national glory, there turns out to have been a cunning optical illusion here that cuts the sequence down to size.
Amanda Lawrence's triple whammy of splendid cameos add up to a brilliant bluff-calling device. A snipe-faced Welsh eccentric, she's the lady-in-waiting who disputes Anne Boleyn's pious disavowal of any yearnings to be queen. She also plays the silent white-faced Fool who, in Rosenblatt's version, shadows the King with a puppet of his deceased son. A trim, darkly handsome and enigmatic Dominic Rowan valuably keeps you guessing about the extent to which Henry is a conscious hypocrite in finding reasons of religious conscience for dumping his first wife. As Katherine of Aragon, Kate Duchene is awesomely fiery and confrontational, a foreign-accented outsider who explosively squares up to Ian McNeice's blubbery, visually forbidding but vocally challenged Wolsey.
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