The Other Boleyn Girl | Chichester Festival Theatre | Review

The Other Boleyn Girl

Chichester Festival Theatre

Of all the Kings and Queens in England’s turbulent past, there is none so notorious as Henry VIII. He and his six wives have been the subject of numerous films, plays and even a current West End musical. Mike Poulton’s new play ‘The Other Boleyn Girl‘ is based on the novel of the same name by renowned historical fiction writer Philippa Gregory. It focuses on his first two wives, Katherine, the staunch Catholic who was Henry’s first wife of many years and more importantly the ambitious Anne Boleyn who stole Henry’s heart and became queen on the promise that she would bear him a legitimate son (spoiler: she didn’t).

Interestingly King Henry (James Atherton) isn’t featured much in the play, the story is predominantly about Anne and her social-climbing family, controlled by their uncle, the odious Duke of Norfolk (Andrew Woodall) and their mother Lady Elizabeth (Alex Kingston).

In a time in history when your position was determined by favours bestowed by royalty, the play opens with Mary Boleyn (Anne’s sister) already established as the King’s mistress and the mother to his illegitimate daughter. Queen Katherine (Kemi-Bo Jacobs) is aware of the affair but as Mary is already married, she poses little threat. The situation changes when during Mary’s second pregnancy, her sister Anne woos the King to keep his attention on the Boleyn family and a new plan is born, for Anne to take Katherine’s place as queen.

There are very strong performances throughout, especially from Kingston and Woodall who use the Boleyn siblings Mary (Lucy Phelps) Anne (Freya Mavor) and George (James Corrigan) as pawns to further the family name. Phelps plays easily the most likeable of the family, her portrayal of Mary Boleyn is passionate and heartfelt as she juggles the demands of her family against her desire to escape court and lead a quiet life with her children. Anne, of course is a different kettle of fish and Mavor’s delivery of this sharp brained, enterprising young lady is en pointe, you admire and loathe her in equal measures. The character of George is more complex, not least his sexuality. Poulton’s script leaves us in no doubt that his actions contribute to his and ultimately Anne’s tragic fate.

Although the play is three hours long, director Lucy Bailey keeps the audience interested, the set is stark with the few props yet Chris Davey lighting design and Dick Straker‘s projections create atmosphere and intrigue. A shout out to the musicians and singers too, the accompanying music gave a unusual Tudor flavour.

Was it accurate? Not really, but there were elements of truth in there, and how many embellishments have we had of this story. The other Boleyn girl was highly enjoyable and expertly executed (pardon the pun). It is well worth seeing

Running at Chichester Festival Theatre until May 11th.


Reviewer: Sammi O’Neill
Image: Stephen Cummiskey