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The Original Mail-Order Bride!

11 August 2018 | Emily May

Whilst Hampton Court Palace has an extensive history spanning many periods, it is perhaps most famous for being the one-time home of Henry VIII, the infamous Tudor playboy who went from wife to wife like they were going out of fashion. Out of the six spouses, Anne Boleyn is often paid the most attention, with the 2008 film The Other Boleyn Girl exploring her story and that of her sister, who was also a mistress to horrid Henry. But what about the other Anne?

Written by Ade Solanke and directed by Sam Curtis Lindsay, The Court Must Have a Queen is a brand new production running at Hampton Court Palace over the summer, which explores how Henry’s advisors set him up with Anne of Cleves, the original mail order bride delivered from over sees as the result of Anglo-German negotiations.

Image Credit: © Historic Royal Palaces/Richard Lea-Hair.
 
As if at a Tudor Banquet, sit along the trestle tables in the Great Hall as you watch a very convincing Henry VIII try to replace his beloved and deceased Jane Seymour, exclaiming that he misses having a woman in his bed. Also, observe the lives of characters living under Henry VIII’s rule, such as a court musician, whose mother begs him to leave the tyrant’s employ; “no one is safe” she stresses, referencing the King’s mood swings and frequent changes of mind. And of course she is right, history buffs will know that even Henry’s trusted chief minister in the play, Thomas Cromwell, would later be executed for treason… and that Henry would subsequently regret the decision.
 
Although the production is mainly played straight, there is some humour deriving from the flamboyant and camp German ambassador (present to help arrange the alliance with Britain through a marriage to the questionably beautiful Ann of Cleves) as he is dressed in colourful tights with enlarged pink and white feathers swaying sassily in his hat. There’s also a particularly funny joke referencing the ill fate of Henry’s wives, in which it is said one maid announced she would marry the king, if only she had two heads.

Image Credit: © Historic Royal Palaces/Richard Lea-Hair.
 
Aside from this, there are also some political allusions, that draw parallels between the Tudor period and today, and resonate (perhaps comically) with the older members of the audience. For example, the emphasis on the religious tensions between the newly formed Church of England and Catholicism is comparable to contemporary Islamophobia, and most prophetically, one character exclaims during the marriage negotiations “perhaps one day we’ll have a united Europe, and all these alliances won’t be necessary.”

The ending is somewhat anti-climactic, as it finishes on a pleasant Tudor style step dance to the sound of trumpets and guitars that have played intermittently throughout the play, celebrating the resolution of the marriage agreement, with Henry being satisfied with the portrait and agreeing to take Anne as his wife. However, you never see the enigmatic Anne, and one is left wishing that the play continued to show the drama that would unfurl once Henry realised he had been duped, and that he had no chemistry with his bride. As the real Henry VIII stated after meeting Anne; “I see nothing in this woman as men report of her.” However, one could argue that this cliffhanger ending enables a sense of dramatic irony, as Tudor aficionados in the audience will know that the result of the marriage is far removed from the reveling they see on stage. The final line of the play is less historically authentic, as Henry invites you to come and take a selfie with him, but this is extremely exciting for young Tudor fans, especially as the actor is very convincing, and dressed in an exquisite regal costume.

Image Credit: © Historic Royal Palaces/Richard Lea-Hair.

The Court Must Have a Queen is not only ideally located in the Great Hall due to its authentic, breathtaking setting of tapestry lined walls and colourful stained glass windows, but also because it precedes Henry VIII’s apartments, so you can enjoy the play as a contextual introduction before you explore the rest of the Tudor monarch’s rooms. After you’ve seen all the sights from the 1500s (including the awe inspiring Chapel Royal where the first head of the Church of England went to worship!) why not explore everything else Hampton Court Palace has to offer, from its art galleries to Georgian rooms, extensive formal gardens and even its chocolate kitchen!

The Court Must Have a Queen runs to 2 September 2018, Thursday to Monday. Performances take place in the Great Hall at 11:30, 12:30 and 15:30 and last approximately 30 minutes. The performance is included within the cost of house admission.
 
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