What are Anne Boleyn’s connections to Suffolk?
PUBLISHED: 11:30 10 May 2020 | UPDATED: 10:44 13 May 2020
Joanna Carrick’s celebrated play about Anne Boleyn has been performed both in Suffolk and at the Tower of London, now it is getting a new performance online and the virtual audience can also gain access to added insights into the queen’s life including her time in East Anglia
Suffolk playwright and theatre director Joanna Carrick is reviving one of her most celebrated plays Fallen in Love, the story of Anne Boleyn’s close relationship with her brother George and how it impacted on Anne’s marriage with Henry VIII.
For Joanna the rich, complex story has an added local element in the fact that Anne was a frequent visitor to Erwarton Hall, near Shotley, home of her uncle Phillip and aunt Amy. Anne was born at Blickling Hall, in Norfolk, into a well connected family and although spent much of her young life in France and the Netherlands, she was part of a large East Anglian family, who also supplied a Lord Mayor of London.
It was this East Anglian connection which prompted Jo to start researching Anne’s life and then to write the play. Fallen in Love was first produced in 2011 and was acclaimed by such Tudor scholars such as Alison Weir, Suzannah Lipscomb and Hilary Mantel. It was revived in 2013 and was granted the honour of being allowed to stage a series of performances inside the Tower of London.
Now Jo is reviving the play for a rehearsed, online play reading on May 19 which will be accompanied by a number of special extras including interviews with actor Scott Ellis, who plays George, theatre critic and broadcaster Libby Purves will interview Jo Carrick and there will be a post performance Q&A for those who have signed up for free tickets.
But, for Joanna, the best historical drama should not forget to be a piece of genuine theatre. The one thing it shouldn’t be is an acted lecture. The extensive research should be worn lightly. She says that the best historical drama informs, entertains and inspires the viewer to go out and find out more.
Jo is proud that the facts of Anne Boleyn’s life inform the events depicted in the play but don’t dictate the action. The play is historically accurate but where there are blank areas, Jo feels then she is allowed some license. For example, no-one knows who gave her the famous ‘B’ necklace which she is frequently pictured wearing, so in Jo’s drama, it becomes a present from George.
A good play makes history come alive which is something Jo cares a lot about. “At school I was never terribly fired up about history, but I have since found out that I enjoy reading and writing about people – people from history, people who made an impact.”
The play benefits from Anne Boleyn’s connections with Erwarton Hall. The original Tudor mansion was owned by Sir Philip Calthorpe, whose wife was aunt to Anne Boleyn and it is believed that not only did Anne spend some of her childhood at the Hall, but it is thought likely that Henry VIII visited her there.
The legend of Anne Boleyn’s heart being buried in Erwarton perhaps began when she is reputed to have said shortly before her execution that the happiest days of her life were spent at the Hall. In 1838 a heart-shaped casket containing dust was found buried in the north wall of St Mary’s Church.
It was reburied beneath the organ with a small plaque marking the spot which made the claim that the former queen’s heart had been brought to the church by her uncle, following her execution on May 19 1536.
For Jo, despite the huge historical importance which surrounds Anne Boleyn’s story, Fallen In Love is a story of two people, a brother and a sister – that is the heart of the story. This relationship is then set against an epic backdrop, a historical canvas which not only changed the nation but also cost Anne and her brother their lives.
She said the scale of Anne’s ambition became frighteningly real when she had the opportunity to stay at Hampton Court and had access to the grounds after the public had gone.
“For that short time I could see why Anne would risk so much to become Queen, to live in these wonderful surroundings and to have a share of that power – to be the most powerful woman in England.”
She said that the thing that remains shocking, both then and now, are the accusations of incest which were levelled at Anne and George by their political enemies. “Accusations of them having an incestuous relationship were as alarming then as they would be now. For me, as a writer, that was a way into the story, it offered a bridge between now and then because 450 years is a long time but it’s not that long if you view it through relationships and the way that society views taboos.”
Cleverly the play takes place in a series of tents and bed chambers over the space of 15 years. The major events and larger-than-life characters which fill our history books exist off-stage.
Henry, Thomas Cranmer, Thomas Cromwell, Anne’s sister Mary or Catherine of Aragon, have either just left the room or about to enter. As a result they are much more vivid characters, living in our imaginations.
Jo has written a two-handed play which breathes life into George and Anne. The events shown in the play occur just before or just after the epic events recorded in history books. We get sense of them as real people, their fears and sense of exultation as their lives change with frightening speed.
Joanna said that although the research for the project last for the best part of three years, the writing of the script took just four, very intense weeks back in 2011.
“I just shut myself away and wrote. I created a timeline, so I could keep the events straight in my head and then wrote a synopsis of what I wanted to include and it just fell into place.
“It naturally fell into four acts with the last act turning into a series of rapidly-paced short scenes punctuated by drum beats because events moved so fast at the end.”
Joanna is pleased that very little of the play is the work of conjecture. “I used many reference sources but Alison Weir’s book The Lady In The Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn was my inspiration. I was delighted when she came to see the play.”
The joy of the play is that it does focus on their relationship, on George and Anne as people. When they are alone you see echoes of their childhood, of their past as well as their current closeness.
Jo is clear that no-one has been able to find any real evidence that they really did have an incestuous relationship. It was a case of mud sticks and court politics demanded that Anne was removed so that Henry could marry Jane Seymour.
“It’s been a fascinating project and I love the fact that I can keep revisiting it, exploring it afresh and these online events allow us to perform the play once again and to share the stories of what went on all those centuries ago and why the story remains as fresh and as compelling as ever.”
Fallen in Love, by Joanna Carrick, is being performed online on Tuesday May 19 at 7pm, with Fizz Waller as Anne Boleyn, and Scott Ellis as her brother George. The performance will be followed by a Q&A. The rehearsed reading is free but needs to be booked so access links can be emailed to the audience. Extra features will also be made available throughout May. You can book tickets on the Red Rose Chain website.
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