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Henry VIII at Shakespeare’s Globe | Review

Henry VIII is a play about power, and the way it corrupts. However relevant to this moment in time, it is an imperfect play – several key points of action occur off-stage. There isn’t much of a climax, the ending originally served in an epilogue. Given all this, it isn’t the most interesting of works attributed to Shakespeare.

Anna Savva and Adam Gillen in Henry VIII © Marc Brenner
Anna Savva and Adam Gillen in Henry VIII – Credit Marc Brenner.

This makes the accomplishment of this particular production extra exciting. Through the addition of music co-comped by Tom Deering and Maimuna Memon, Henry VIII is elevated. The songs enable much more to made of the female roles, and add complexity to the King himself – aiding the depiction of him not just as erratic and all-powerful in his domain, but as someone who disregarded the women in his life as a means to an end. While we know this about Henry, the play traditionally feels far more centred on his machinations as a powerful autocrat, manipulated by other power-hungry men. The women are otherwise rather secondary, bearers of the consequences only. In the Globe’s production, their plight is given far more room to breathe, and becomes just as central to the action.

It is an all-round excellent production, from design through to costumes, utilizing a stark colour palette and some very eye-catching props that go a long way to adding humour and silliness to an otherwise serious play (and I won’t spoil the fun by saying more). Though the original prologue highlights the play’s gravity, this production does not feel the need to demand this – a balanced use of humour actually helps to bring to light the more important themes, without undermining them. It’s clever theatre-making. The collaboration between 2022 resident writer Hannah Khalil and director Amy Hodge has redefined this play for a modern generation.

Every performance is strong, though Bea Segura as Queen Katherine and Adam Gillen as King Henry VIII himself are clear standouts, and the interactions between Debbie Korley and Anna Savva are imbued with perfect comic timing, adding a lot of charm to the overall experience. Indeed the whole cast make skilled use of every comedic opportunity.

Just note that if you are planning to bring the whole family, they aren’t kidding about the sexual imagery warning in the play’s description – it’s not exactly subtle. Otherwise, the Globe’s Henry VIII is a delightful viewing experience, both unexpectedly funny and thought-provoking.

4 stars

Review by Christina Carè

One of Shakespeare’s final plays, and co-written by John Fletcher, this rarely performed play will be seen in a new light at the Globe this summer. Hannah Khalil, the Globe’s 2022 Resident Writer has become Shakespeare and Fletcher’s third collaborator, providing a female perspective to this exploration of love, lineage, and power.

Who knows yet
But from this Lady may proceed a gem
To lighten all this isle

– Act II, scene 3

Jamie Ballard – Cardinal Wolsey
Esmonde Cole – Surrey and Cromwell
Natasha Cottriall – Princess Mary
Janet Etuk – Anne Bullen
Adam Gillen – King Henry VIII
Debbie Korley – Woman 1, Patience and Elizabeth I
Kevin McMonagle – Chamberlain
Baker Mukasa – Norfolk and Sands
Jonah Russell – Buckingham and Cardinal Campeius
Anna Savva – Woman 2 and Hope
Bea Segura – Queen Katharine
Henry VIII was cast by Becky Paris, Head of Casting at Shakespeare’s Globe

The Company:
Director – Amy Hodge
Designer – Georgia Lowe
Writer – Hannah Khalil
Co-Composer, Orchestrator & Arranger – Tom Deering
Co-Composer, Songwriter & Lyricist – Maimuna Memon
Movement Director – Aline David
Assistant Director – Connie Treves
Costume Supervisor – Sydney Florence
Fight Director – RC ANNIE (Ruth Cooper-Brown and Rachel Bown-Williams)
Voice – Gurkiran Kaur
Globe Associate, Movement – Glynn MacDonald
Globe Associate, Text – Giles Block

Percussion – Joley Cragg
Singer – Genevieve Dawson
Double Bass – Nina Harries
Accordion – Garance Louis
Guitar – Shirley Tetteh

Henry VIII by William Shakespeare, John
Fletcher and Hannah Khalil
19 May – 21 October 2022

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  • Christina Carè

    'Christina is just another Aussie in London, writing about the arts and signing up for all the weird performance productions the city has to offer. She is Content Editor at Spotlight and tweets from @christinacare.'

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