Fallen In Love: The Secret Heart of Anne Boleyn, by Joanna Carrick, showing at the Tower of London.
A Guest Post by London Historians Member, Lissa Chapman
The Boleyn brand has never been more popular: novels, television series, conferences, a dozen Twitter users jostling for the name @AnneBoleyn – surely the perfume and a range of lingerie called “the most happy” can’t be far behind. It’s hardly surprising. Anne Boleyn was a celebrity (yes, they did have them in the sixteenth century), a whore or a religious heroine – delete according to taste – in her own lifetime, and her legendary status is unlikely to fade. She is one of the historical figures whose significance is in the eye, and often the heart, of the beholder.
So a play about her, staged within yards of the place of her violent death, has to be a winner. But it isn’t clear if “Fallen in Love: The Secret Heart of Anne Boleyn” is exactly a play. Supported by the Heritage (not the Arts) Lottery Fund and staged in association with Historic Royal Palaces, this project seemed to me to belong in the sometimes uncertain ground between theatre and live interpretation. It is both a strength and a weakness of the piece that it is written with great integrity, firmly based on primary source material. It also avoids the vulgarities of sixth fingers, witchcraft and serial shagging.
The theme is the intense bond between Anne Boleyn and her younger brother George – the two were of course convicted, among other things, of incest with each other. The premise of the piece is that their love was the central relationship in both their lives. The action spans nearly twenty years, starting at the time of the Field of the Cloth of Gold when the siblings were in their teens, and continuing until their execution; each scene is a self-contained set piece, with the two characters meeting to plan, rejoice, grieve or comment.
Emma Connell as Anne and Scott Ellis as George, both in their twenties, were convincing in the early scenes; each was able to convey the vitality and insatiable ambition of the pair, and their interdependence against the world, along with the febrile charm that must have characterised the real Boleyns.. It was as they were asked to age, to occupy a larger place in that world and to become more formidable that the difficulties began. These were partly inherent in the writing which, as the characters became public property, took more and more the form of paraphrased chunks of source material (relying on the accuracy of the reports of Eustace Chapuys a little too often for my particular taste). And as the Boleyns became significant and visible to the world at large, the limitations of the two-hander became more evident. Attempts were made to suggest the influence of others, in particular the king, but neither the danger and watchfulness of court life nor the dangerousness of the characters themselves became manifest.
It is worth noting that this production represents a huge ask of its cast and crew. The 9pm performance I attended was the third of that day – an exhausting prospect for a show with an 85-minute running time. The choice of the New Armouries as the setting was a disappointment, as it is one of the least atmospheric parts of the Tower, although the practicality in terms of lighting and comfort were evident. And the costumes, although they would have been acceptable in a larger space, were not of sufficient quality to bear the close scrutiny they receive from an audience only a few feet from the action.
Despite all this, however, this is a serious and thoughtful piece of writing. It would be interesting to revisit the subject using a larger cast of characters and perhaps with live rather than recorded music. Yet – secret heart? Walking through the dark precincts of the Tower on a night in May seemed to me to offer a greater sense of connection with Anne Boleyn than any play ever could. Perhaps that is as it should be.
Fallen In Love: The Secret Heart of Anne Boleyn, by Joanna Carrick, runs until 16 June. There are three performances most days, ticket prices £27 – £32. Concessions available, including 10% discount to London Historians Members.