Anne Boleyn is an iconic figure in England’s history. Henry VIII’s divorce of Queen Catherine for Anne was a major catalyst for England’s Reformation and thus dramatically changed the course of history. However, despite this gravity, a veil of mystery still shrouds Anne’s life, which has been subject of much speculation. We interview director Joanna Carrick about her 2013 production Fallen in Love: a play that explores Anne Boleyn’s life, set where Anne spent her final days – The Tower of London.
What drew you to the story of Anne Boleyn? What inspired you to bring her life onto the stage?
I have always been fascinated by Anne. As a child, I lived near Erwarton and the Church there is said to have her heart buried inside one of the walls. I was intrigued by this story and also visited Erwarton hall, which is said to be haunted by her ghost. In writing the play, I wanted to explore the reasons behind her power and success in a world when women had virtually no opportunities and to break through the myth to find a real person who we in 21st century can empathise with.
How did you approach the mystery that surrounds this well-known historical figure?
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By reading everything I could get my hands on. Of course Eric Ives’ biography is an invaluable resource and I found Alison Weir’s The Lady in the Tower the most gripping and scholarly insight into her last few months. As well as finding out about Anne directly, I tried to absorb as much as possible about life at that particular point in history. A big turning point for me was going to stay inside Hampton Court Palace for a long weekend. The Landmark Trust has a beautiful apartment for rent in the Palace and it gave me the chance to be there once all the crowds had gone home and really appreciate the atmosphere. It was there that I started to appreciate the scale of the story and although it made me feel a bit shallow and materialistic, to appreciate the pull for Anne of being Queen of all that and Henry’s Queen too.
Do you think this aura of the unknown influenced you to push to find the truth, or did it give you creative freedom in your storytelling?
Definitely to push to find the truth. For me the heart of the creativity was to respond to the facts in as much detail as possible and to create characters full of original detail. Being specific and rigorous about the authenticity is actually very exciting creatively and there are so many gaps to fill in. Everything I have included is based on primary source evidence and I have only invented at points where we simply don’t know. For example, in the play George Boleyn gives Anne the famous ‘B’ necklace. We don’t actually know where it came from but for me it fits as a most likely explanation and works with the concept. The actors and I have come to refer to each other as ‘Team Boleyn’.
How has the play’s setting in the Tower of London influenced the performance? How has it affected the boundaries of fact and fiction?
The Tower lends gravity and makes the story even more momentous. In her scaffold speech Anne said, ‘If anyone should meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best’ and this has been a guiding mantra throughout. On the site of her imprisonment and death it feels even more important to get it right and I have tried to do this, not by creating a saintly faultless figure but by invoking a real, bright, flawed but extremely courageous woman. Being in the Tower, and especially coming out of the play and seeing the execution site at the end, should make the experience more telling and profound for the audience.
There are many stories of theatres and ghosts. Did anything unexplainable or strange happen in this creation?
No not really, although the actors seem to think it was extremely strange when I described driving around on my own in my car imagining Anne was in the front seat and showing her the way the modern world has evolved during the last five centuries. I know it probably does sound a bit batty, but for me defining the differences in our world helps to clarify the similarities. It also really helped me to get the voice of the characters and to really understand them. Once I’d done this, it was much easier to know how they would have reacted to each of the situations they faced.
There have been many film and stage representations of Anne Boleyn. How did this affect your presentation of her? Did you use these productions as part of your research, or did you not let them influence you?
I don’t think they were a big influence. Portraits, places, letters and accounts were a much bigger influence. I think I subconsciously avoided dramatisations of the story while I was writing and researching. My focus is also Anne and her relationship with her brother George. There’s been a lot of dramatic speculation about their relationship and I just felt I had to get my story straight.
Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII’s marriage was a catalyst for England’s Reformation. Do you think she has become an icon of English culture? What parts of her character/ her story do you think are inherent in England’s identity?
I do, I think she’s a really important figure. Of course the Reformation was a huge turn around for our country and the results of it affect us every day. I think Anne was a modern woman and a great thinker; her movement sought to take control of doctrine and to make it work logically as well as spiritually. She combined style and charisma with intellectual brilliance and achieved the impossible in many ways in her short life. Those qualities and achievements, combined with her courage make her an inspiring role model for British women today.
When creating a historical play, how to you balance the need for a production to be relevant to a modern audience and the need to present history truthfully? Do these two aspects work well together, or do they clash at times?
I think they can work amazingly well together. Despite all the cultural and physical differences between our world and the world of Anne and George, our common humanity is the most startling and compelling element. In Fallen in Love the settings are often domestic and intimate, and the script, combined with some brilliant acting, creates an exciting level of reality. When we see them laughing, bickering, doubting and hoping, just like us, we start to time travel a bit and to connect with the story on a very personal level. It’s at that point, I hope, that history really can come alive.
Watch the trailer for Fallen in Love below:
Fallen in Love performed at The Tower of London 17 May – 16 June 2013.
For more information please visit www.redrosechain.com
By Joanna Carrick
Interviewed by Andrew Kingsford-Smith
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