As this Folger Theatre production demonstrates, a lifetime of devoted service isn’t enough to save you in King Henry VIII’s court.
By Julie LaPorte
Everything about Henry VIII points toward intrigue – from the hushed consultations in darkened corners to the multiple layers of lattice work that obscures whoever is lurking behind to the seemingly random orders to be taken to the Tower for sins that may or may not have been committed. Directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre’s production exploring the fear and tension of living and working in King Henry VIII’s court is playing through November 21.
“Shakespeare’s Henry VIII is usually conceived as a large-scale epic drama, full of spectacle and pageantry” said Richmond. “However, the creative team of this production found it equally compelling as a human story, a play about life as a monarch – full of political maneuvering and decision making. Our aim has been to focus on the private rather than the public and to take the audience through the keyhole into the back rooms to view these historical events.”
One of the ways Richmond renders this humanity is by adding two characters. The first new arrival is Henry’s fool, Will Sommers (played brilliantly by Louis Butelli), who acts as the narrator, easing in and out of various roles as needed and providing insight and wit. The second is Princess Mary (played by Megan Steigerwald), the daughter of Henry and Katherine, who serves as a silent judge on the sins of her father.
Ian Merrill Peakes’ King Henry was forceful and dynamic, but with his heart right under the surface. Naomi Jacobson played the wronged Queen Katherine, full of fire and passion, unwilling to go quietly into the night. Karen Peakes played the restrained and watchful Anne Boleyn, and Anthony Cochrane played Cardinal Wolsey, plotting and manipulative but able to laugh when the joke falls on him. Rounding out the cast with their three-dimensional portrayals of dukes, confidants and rakes were Nathan James Bennett, Michael Glenn, Stephen Patrick Martin, Lawrence Redmond and Todd Scofield.
The set design, beautifully conjured by Tony Cisek, and gorgeous costumes of William Ivey Long deserve special recognition. The intimate theatre was transformed into a shadowy world of half-truths and conspiracy – dark wood, detailed lattice work, and an intricate balcony seemingly suspended from above. And the costumes were stunning in their richness and detail, embellished with jewels and perfectly matched to the characters and time.
Presented alongside the play is Vivat Rex! Commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Accession of Henry VIII, an exhibition of rare books, manuscripts, handwritten letters, and prints- the perfect way to round out your experience. Furthermore, on November 5 Thomas Campbell will present a lecture on the tapestries of Henry VIII, and on November 29, Margaret George discuss her book, The Autobiography of Henry VIII. For more information and to buy tickets, visit Folger Theatre.
Julie LaPorte is a freelance writer living outside Washington, D.C. For the past year she has served as a columnist for Washington Life Magazine – penning reviews for the Performing Arts and the Paint the Town columns. She also works as a political marketing copywriter for candidates in local, state and national campaigns as well as for Congressional franked mail.