On a fine spring evening, with the sun lowering over the Thames, there can be few more atmospheric places to watch theatre than the Tower of London – the venue for this two-hander about Anne Boleyn and her brother George, written and directed by Joanna Carrick for her Suffolk-based theatre company Red Rose Chain.
An affable Beefeater leads you from the Tower’s main entrance, pausing briefly at Traitors’ Gate – the historic entry point for prisoners accused of treason, where Anne herself probably arrived by barge from Greenwich, knowing that she was unlikely to leave with her head attached.
It’s a taster of how much more effective the play might have been had the company made full use of the magnificent setting. As it is, the performance is confined to the banqueting hall. It’s evocative (in its way) with its high, vaulted ceiling, and the shiver-inducing knowledge that Anne and George were imprisoned not far away. And the play – a meticulously researched series of vignettes, taking us from the Field of the Cloth of Gold to the Boleyn siblings’ spectacular fall from grace in 1536 – offers much to enjoy, not least a charismatic central presence in Emma Connell as Anne.
But the performances, to quote ‘Spinal Tap’, sometimes feel as if they’re turned up to 11 – in a space this intimate, they should be much more subtle. And it’s a shame that the action should remain so static. A promenade performance, taking place at various points around the Tower, could be so much more exciting.
By Laura Barnett