Anne Boleyn at the Globe


For a special treat for my birthday, Alex got tickets to see Anne Boleyn (the new play by Howard Brenton) at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

This past Friday night after work we went for a nice dinner along the South Bank, and then walked along the river to the Globe.   We’ve passed by a couple of times, but never been inside. I was a little afraid that it would be hoakey or touristy, but it was definitely neither of those!

The theatre is a reconstruction of the Globe Theatre as it existed in Shakespeare’s time. An Elizabethan Playhouse, it was completely destroyed by fire in 1613. It was briefly rebuilt, but the closed forever (by the Puritans, no less)  in 1644.  It wasn’t until 1996 that the plans were resurrected and the theatre was rebuilt, close to the original site and with (almost) the original design.  In fact, the Globe is the only building the London with a thatch roof. After the great fire of 1666, thatched roofs were forbidden in London, and the builders had to get a special exemption for the theatre. Don’t worry — the thatch here has been treated with a fire-retardant, and there is an excellent sprinkler system.


The building itself is constructed entirely of English oak. You can tell when you go up the stairs that it feels completely different to modern buildings. The mortise and tenon joinery is evident in the overhead beams. Alex commented on how cool a feeling it was to walk up the stairs and hear them creak!


The drawbacks to having such an authentic building is in the facilities. The seats are simple wooden benches, about 6 inches wide. And if you’re like me, your bum is just a wee-bit wider than 6 inches … which can be uncomfortable. Luckily you can rent cushions, which makes a big difference. Also, none of the benches have backs, so you have to be careful and reserve seats in the rear of the stands, and then at least you’ll have something to lean against.


The theatre is built in the round, with an exposed centre and stage. You can buy a very cheap ticket for the “groundling” area, and stand the entire performance, or you can buy a ticket for the stands and at least have a seat and some protection from the rain.


Oh yes! Performances continue regardless of the weather!  For the performance of Anne Boleyn there was a long walkway extending into the standing area, and the actors used the walkway to enter and exit the stage.

As you’re looking at this picture of the stage, we were seated on the top level on the right, in the second-closest box to the stage. It wasn’t the best seat in the house, but it really worked out well because the stage is so close. With a few exceptions, we could hear and see all the action. The musicians, who play authentic instruments from Shakespeare’s time, were in the balcony above the stage.


The play itself was really really good, even if it was a little liberal with history. Basically the story begins with the ghost of Anne Boleyn. She tells you that it was her lifelong goal to bring about an English language Bible (working with William Tyndale), and that it caused her death. Her ghost is also haunting James I (who totally stole the show). James I has to deal with the fractured state of religion caused by the schism, and he blames Anne Boleyn for starting it all. While this is an interesting take on the idea, and connects two monarchs who I don’t think have ever really been examined side-by-side, I’m not sure it’s historically accurate. I think Anne Boleyn may have considered herself a reformer, but definitely not a protestant. She lived and died a good Catholic.

Anyway, that’s getting all a bit carried away! You can tell why I loved the play (it’s one of my favourite times in history), and the play was carried off beautifully. My only complaint is that to maintain such an authentic experience, the theatre does not use any microphones or speakers. Everything is done naturally. And Miranda Raison, who plays Anne, simply doesn’t have the voice to project throughout the theatre.

I can’t really rave enough about how cool this experience was. Everything played a part: the building, the set design, the actors, the audience … even though I was sceptical, this is by far one of my favourite experiences so far here in London!


Posted on 10/08/2010, in Exploring the UK, Within London and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Love it! We walked by the theater, too, but didn’t plan far enough in advance to see a play. Next time 🙂

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