ArtBeat: Anne Boleyn at the Naughton Studio, Red-to-Red at The MAC, Ploughboy of the Western World at Strand Arts Centre and Glastonbury highlights...

Anne Boleyn at the Naughton Studio. Picture by Neil Harrison
Anne Boleyn at the Naughton Studio. Picture by Neil Harrison

I WAS lucky enough to see Howard Brenton's drama Anne Boleyn at the Naughton Studio last week and was blown away by the acting, direction and flair.

Ostensibly about the creation of the King James Bible, it also provides a bird's eye view into Tudor politics, passion and what really caused Henry VIII's split with Rome.

Director Philip Crawford was back on top form, and the actors from the Lyric Theatre's Drama Studio were superb, in particular Kealan McAllister as camp and worryingly clever James I and VI, fossicking among Anne's things and discovering her copy of uber-Protestant Tyndale's banned book. His scenes with the boyfriend he nicknames 'Steamy' (Caelan Stow) were memorable.

Anne Boleyn at the Naughton Studio. Picture by Neil Harrison
Anne Boleyn at the Naughton Studio. Picture by Neil Harrison

Lucy McCluskey as Anne, Tiarnán McCarron as Henry (nice to see a young, springy monarch), and Aaron Ferguson giving a sinister Tom Hollander-ish account of Cromwell were also stellar.

Staged cleverly with the audience like the spies at court on both sides of the action, this production showed why Brenton is a great playwright. Historical drama, from Robert Bolt to Blackadder, is a tricky old genre, but he nails it, mixing colloquialism with complex scenes from the Hampton Court Conference of 1604 that show how commissioning one of the finest prose works ever written (probably involving John Donne) was clever realpolitik.

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We see quixotic James negotiating the language so it half satisfies Puritans and Anglicans, while putting the boot in to the Presbyterians.

Walmer Castle in Kent, which held Henry's artillery, has been advising people how to really appreciate historical artefacts and culture – with your senses, ie, without your not-so-smart phone. They've posted boards saying this scene will remain long in the memory.

Remembering tourists at the Musee d'Orsay photographing, not really seeing Manet's great canvases of his garden at Giverny, I agree. You need to 'click' in the mind's eye – worth practising before you head to your next exhibition.

Red Gesture by Sharon Kelly, from Red-to-Red at The MAC
Red Gesture by Sharon Kelly, from Red-to-Red at The MAC

The MAC hosts great shows and has the remarkable Red-to-Red by Sharon Kelly on until August 13, which examines the female condition via a large painting of an unoccupied red dress.

It's good to see Robbie Burns, Scotland's finest export alongside whisky, featuring outside Burns Night: the enjoyable EastSide Arts Festival (July 27 to August 6, includes Tom Sweeny's droll play about the guy, Ploughboy of the Western World, at the Strand Arts Centre on August 3.

The talented trio of actors who work with myself and Michael Conaghan in Fourth Wall Theatre Company, Victoria Gleason, Mark Claney and Debbie McCormack, present with Libby Smyth a warts-and-all portrait.

The drama was originally censored for its explicit account of Burns' love life: he not only left behind some of the most beautiful and political poems written in dialect, he also had an unknown number of children.

Glastonbury 2023 was fab: Hozier, The Killers' Brandon Flowers and the great Yusuf Islam, aka Cat Stevens, spreading the love plus a green message. Worthy Farm encapsulates what you might call Britain's soul.