Folger Theatre's Henry VIII

Henry VIII is a bad play. There, I said it. It has to be said. If this play was anonymous, no one would ever put it one. Henry VIII falls into the Is it by Shakespeare, Is is not by Shakespeare, Can we blame Fletcher for this? category. As a result of its probable association with the Bard, it receives possibly unwarranted attention.

Here’s why it is bad: the author is unable to risk offending the monarch of the time, Queen Elizabeth. Remember her parents? Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. So the text can’t say anything bad about these two. So Shakespeare et al. have taken a story that has inflamed the imaginations of numerous writers and made it completely boring. There's no sex, no intrigue, no flirting, no backstabbing. In short, no plot.

So can you create a good evening of theatre with a bad text? Well you can, or at least the Folger production of this play, directed by Robert Richmond, comes as close as may be possible. The production is aided by some amazing visuals thanks to the set design of Tony Cisek, the lighting design of Klyph Stanford, and the sumptuous costumes by William Ivey Long. Richmond wisely has his actors play the parts straightforwardly. Shakespeare/Fletcher/? refused to write a villain in this play, so everyone in the Folger production plays their characters as though they are just people trying to do what they think is best. And I think that is what you have to do, otherwise every time someone started talking about how virtuous Anne Boleyn is or how something good will surely come from this, it would just be too absurd.

If you are a Shakespeare fanatic, or even just a fan, I recommend taking in this production. Because even though there are reasons why this play isn’t done, there are also reasons to see this particular production.

3 stars
Through November 28


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