I’ve been trying for years to see every single Shakespeare play performed, and had almost completed my quest, except for Henry VIII; or All Is True, which eluded me. This play, which tells the story of the king’s quest for a divorce from Catherine of Aragon so that he can marry Anne Boleyn and hopefully produce a longed-for male heir, is hardly ever performed these days – the Globe did it a few years ago, but as that was before I moved to London, I didn’t get a chance to see it.
Thankfully, I found out that a performance would be taking place in Brighton, organised by Dan Wilson, who dreamt up a quest on his 37th birthday to see every Shakespeare play of the traditional canon in live performance. As he couldn’t find a perofmance of this play, he decided to sort one out himself – and I’m very grateful to him, although I do wish he’d done it a few months ago so that I could have completed the canon before my 30th birthday. Still, you can’t have everything!
The play is the only history play in the traditional canon without a battle, and has the dubious honour of being the production responsible for the destruction of the Globe Theatre in 1613, when a cannon shot ignited the thatched roof and burned the building to the ground. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it was a popular work, often performed with lavish parades and grand tableaux, but nowadays it is much more rarely performed.
Performed by Droll and Folly Theatre in the Nightingale Room above the Grand Central pub in Brighton, the script-in-hand performance was an entertaining romp through the Bard’s most recent – in terms of content – history play. Duncan Henderson was suitably regal as King Henry, while Nicholas Quirke, who also directed, gave a good performance as Cardinal Wolsey. Peta Taylor was excellent as Katherine of Aragon, who, interestingly, plays a much larger part in the drama than Anne Boleyn (known here as Anne Bullen). I also enjoyed Simon Helyer’s amusing performance as the Lord Chamberlain.
Henry VIII isn’t exactly a masterpiece, but I honestly don’t know why it is performed so rarely as it is. I’m really glad I made the effort to see it: I can finally say I’ve completed the canon.