Henry’s search for a fourth wife disturbs his entire court, can John Blanke’s return soothe matters ?
Jack Benjamin – John Blanke
Having had the pleasure of meeting the cast of The Court Must Have a Wife in rehearsals, where they gave me a personal performance of what is the opening scene of the play, in the unromantic setting of a London rehearsal room in everyday clothes, I was looking forward to seeing the real thing, in period dress in the dramatic setting of Henry VIII’s Great Hall at Hampton Court Palace.
Ade Solanke sets her play The Court Must Have A Wife in the summer of 1539 when a tired, gout ridden Henry is looking for a new wife following the death of Jane Seymour, his mood swings sets the entire court on edge, few feel safe or comfortable. The redoubtable Thomas Cromwell plans the feasting and disguising to hopefully seal the treaty he negotiated for Henry to marry the German princess Anne of Cleves. John Blanke has returned to the court and perhaps can through his music and worldly experience placate Henry.
The play is set in the long rather than the more familiar round, Sam Curtis Lindsay, the play’s director moves the action, at pace from one end of the Great Hall to the other using the full length of the Hall to great effect. In doing so he gives everyone in the audience the opportunity to see and sense the characters at close hand almost eavesdropping on some conversations, as the action is so close at times.
My expectations from seeing the rehearsals were far exceeded. The setting in the Great Hall is stunning with the Hall’s vast arched roof , its beams and supports edged in gold and with its walls draped in magnificent sixteenth century tapestries depicting the life of Abraham.
The costumes where magnificent several of the characters wore black including Thomas Cromwell, Maria – John Blanke’s mother and Lady Margaret Bryan, but the costumes where not simply plain black they were all sumptuously black with much use of black silk and satin details set against black velvet and with high lights in white, silver and gold colouredfabrics and lace while the gold and fur of Henry’s garment is simply magnificent, a dramatic and fitting contrast to the sombre black of his subjects.
My favourite scene of this short play for me is the duet, really looks like jamming, between Henry VIII and John Blanke. Henry strumming what looks like a lute and John with his trumpet, together playing a piece which, I can only guess was written by Henry. A scene I had imagined for my own John Blanke movie UNFUFILLED: Europe 1533. It was a delight to see it actually brought to brilliantly to life in such a wonderful setting!
My only gripe is not with the play, or its settings, it is to do with its promotion. There is nothing in the gift shop about the play not even a copy of Miranda Kaufmann’s Black Tudors: The Untold Story I would have expected to have seen a copy of the play ideally with some John Blanke merchandise and as a minimum a simple A5 flyer introducing the play and players along with the writer and director I am sure this latter failing can be corrected easily.
Having said that I thoroughly enjoyed the play, seeing something fresh and new each of the three times I saw it. I very much look forward to seeing it again before it finishes 2nd September 2018.
Ade and Sam have really imagined the black Tudor trumpeter and the cast have brought their respective imaginations to life – fully recommended !
......and thanks to the cast (complete cast list and biographies here) for the ultimate selfie!