In the process, she subtracted some things, added others from Shakespeare’s vast canon of plays and sonnets, and rearranged yet others to come up with a work that’s fresh, colourful, lively and entertaining enough to make you almost forget the discomfort of sitting on The Globe’s narrow wooden benches.
He may be a king, but this Henry (Adam Gillen) is the subject of savage ridicule. Dressed in purple clothes and trainers, wearing a golden cut-out paper crown, he is a petulant little man, quick to anger, obsessed with the urge to have a son to inherit his realm, but plagued by occasional bouts of impotence.
Pictured in one grotesque scene sitting on a solid gold loo, Henry rules over a blingy court where his impotence is political rather than sexual, as courtiers plot to serve their own interests, foremost among them the scarlet-clad Cardinal Wolsey (Jamie Ballard).
But it’s the women this remake of the play focuses on. Minor characters in Shakespeare’s original, here they take centre stage, with Katharine of Aragon, played by the Catalan actor Bea Segura, a compelling figure.
Henry VIII Shakespeare's Globe 2022. Bea Segura as Katharine of Aragon. Photo: Marc Brenner
The women dominate. The play opens with a ballad performed by a female singer (Genevieve Dawson); in the pit, two raggedy women sit on garish blow-up plastic chairs placed on plinths, acting as part-choir, part-narrator. And Khalil introduces the character of Mary (Natasha Cottriall), Henry’s daughter by his marriage to Katharine, another strong-headed figure, who, despite her father’s indifference bordering on cruelty, will not be silenced.
Henry VIII Shakespeare's Globe 2022. Natasha Cottriall as Mary Tudor. Photo: Marc Brenner
The play is set in the chaotic period between the protracted end of Henry’s marriage to Katharine and the birth of Elizabeth, his daughter with Anne Bullen (Janet Etuk). A daughter whose birth is announced à la gender-reveal parties de nos jours, news of which Henry receives with anger and dismay.
Henry VIII Shakespeare's Globe 2022. Anna Savva as Hope, Adam Gillen as Henry. Photo: Marc Brenner
That Anne is seen as no more than a fresh womb is signified in an early scene where Henry sticks a blue balloon under her skirts before violently bursting all the pink balloons that have fallen onto the stage.
In the end, though, the women prevail and the final word belongs to Elizabeth I, who joins the christening of her baby self to assert herself as a long-lived, prosperous monarch.
Directed by Amy Hodge, the tone of this production veers between dignified and decidedly bawdy, and follows the Shakespearean custom of appealing to the audience to cheer and jeer as appropriate. The entire cast are superb.
A final word of praise goes to Tom Deering and Maimuna Memon's excellent musical score: subtle, non-intrusive, entirely atmospheric and beautifully played by a four-piece ensemble placed on a gallery above the stage.
In short, Henry VIII at the Globe is amusing and thought-provoking in equal measure, and leaves you free to draw your own parallels.
|What||Henry VIII, Shakespeare’s Globe review|
|Where||The Globe, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, London, SE1 9DT | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Blackfriars (underground)|
26 May 22 – 25 Oct 22, 19:30 matinees available. Dur.: 2 hour 30 mins inc one interval
|Price||£5 - £62|
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|