Philobiblon: Solid enough history, pity about the misogyny...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Solid enough history, pity about the misogyny...

Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived -- this is a mantra that few English school students could have avoided learning at some point. They might have even enjoyed finding out about Henry VIII and the frisson of sex and danger that surrounded him; so different to the monarch they know, in her sensible shoes and frumpy hats.

But it can be a bit hard keeping those Cs and Ks straight, so the writers of Divorced Beheaded Died, which premiered last night at the Jermyn Street Theatre, have kept it simple, only putting the first three on stage. Catherine of Aragon (Melanie Dagg), Anne Boleyn (Stephanie Fastre) and Jane Seymour (Frederica Dunstan) are in some sort of heavenly waiting room; you might call it Limbo, but we never get to that level of theological sophistication.

They are the caricatures you remember from high school history: Catherine's the solemn, humorless one with a strong foreign (if rather indeterminate) accent; Anne's all sex and temper; Jane's all simper and stupidity. They think it is 1536, but suddenly Mary Boleyn -- Anne’s sister -- joins them in this curious room, and they learn it is 1543.

There's news to catch up on. So for an hour there's a potted history lesson, with multiple flashbacks to the earlier years of Henry's reign. It is more or less a comedy, if of the rather obvious kind, with many of the jokes coming from the use of contemporary slang and putdowns by women in Tudor dress. In such a production "What century are you living in?" is a dead cert for a laugh, but not exactly an original one. READ MORE

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