Nobody’s exactly sure when she was born, but we all know when and how she died – unjustly accused of adultery, incest, witchcraft, and high treason, and beheaded with a single sword-stroke at the hand of a French executioner brought in by her husband, King Henry VIII.
Anne Boleyn is arguably one of the most renowned women in English history but is often seen very much as a victim of a Monarch whose obsession for a male heir - and a roving eye – meant that those around him were little more than commodities to be disposed of as soon as they became inconvenient. What accounts tend not to recognise, however, was that Anne’s ruthless ambition to be Queen of England at all costs may well have contributed to her own fate.
Joanna Carrick’s rivetting two-hander for her Red Rose Chain company, Fallen in Love – The Secret Heart of Anne Boleyn, examines this murkier side to the story and Anne's relationship with her brother, George Boleyn, himself accused of incest with Anne and treason.
Carrick’s writing is snappy and accessible; Emma Connell is superb as Anne, effortlessly imbuing this complex character with a naivety and ambition that are clearly at odds with each other and a sure sign that Anne’s time as queen consort will not end well. Indeed, despite falling pregnant on numerous occasions – and giving birth to the girl who would eventually become Queen Elizabeth I – Anne failed in her marital duties to provide Henry with a living male heir and this was to be her downfall.
Scott Ellis, as George, struts and bounds energetically about the performance space, very much the playboy aristocrat, devoid of care and harbouring ambitions of his own in a flawless performance. He’s promiscuous, manipulative, cruel to a wife he has no regard for, and Carrick initially paints him in a not particularly positive light. It is only as Anne’s ambition increases that we see George has hidden layers of moral fibre, which Ellis illustrates perfectly.
Played in the round, with just a four-poster bed as a stage, Fallen in Love is presented to its audiences in the evocative surroundings of The Tower of London, mere yards from the sites at which the unfortunate siblings were executed separately on May 17th and 19th, 1536, a truly exhilarating choice of venue. While such a historical location may not have the technical facilities of a dedicated theatre space, some inspired use of portable and indigenous lighting create the shadows and places of intrigue so characteristic of a Tudor Court.
As the pair prepare to meet their respective fates, the bed becomes a place of execution and their former cockiness falls away as quickly as their embroidered vestments, a poignant reminder offered of how pride comes before a fall. Compelling stuff that will no doubt be a major Summer draw for overseas tourists in search of some living history.