The unofficial Nat and Anna Parker fansite

Wolf Hall / Bring Up the Bodies, Aldwych Theatre - theatre review
London Evening Standard,
Henry Hitchings
19 May 2014

The intrigue fizzes, and the dialogue continually surprises, switching between delicious lyricsm and a bracing simplicity.

Wolf Hall 5 stars / Bring Up the Bodies 4 stars

Hilary Mantel's novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, both winners of the Man Booker Prize, present a haunting vision of Tudor politics. Their portraits of Henry VIII and his enigmatic minister Thomas Cromwell are startlingly persuasive.

These adaptations by Mike Poulton are a remarkable achievement, compressing over 1,000 pages into two plays that preserve the books' absorbing density but are also admirably crisp and clear. When they premiered at Stratford-upon-Avon in January, they struck me as brisk and gripping yet not obviously amusing. Here they feel funnier and broader as well as shorter (though they still have a combined running time of around five and a half hours).

Ben Miles's Cromwell has also taken on a different hue. Instead of seeming watchful and detached, he's now more engaging. Miles is superb, conveying Cromwell’s charisma and efficiency in a style that’s both relaxed and magnetic. He elucidates the complexities of a very public man with a carefully guarded private life, for instance showing that even as Cromwell becomes tougher he remains convinced of his sensitivity.

Director Jeremy Herrin marshals a large cast with impressive fluency.

Aside from Miles, the star is Nathaniel Parker as Henry VIII. He is at his best in the moments where we see the vulnerability behind the bluster, and this is never more apparent than in his awkward awareness that his poetry may not be quite as good as his sycophantic hangers-on insist.

Lydia Lenonard's power-hungry and later power-crazed Anne Boleyn is a fascinating mix of seductiveness and savagery, while Lucy Briers has a meticulous severity as Katharine of Aragon. John Ramm's finely observed Thomas More looks uncannily like the famous Holbein portrait of that patient master of piolitical philosophy. There's deft work in smaller roles too, with Joshua Silver perfectly understated as Cromwell's clerk Rafe Sadler and Joey Batey suitably slippery as adulterous musician Mark Smeaton.

Crucially, Poulton reproduces Mantel's ability to have fun with the past while also valuing authenticity. Through her layered, fresh and exact prose Mantel makes the 16th-century feel racy and accessible, and those qualities are always evident here. This is a brutal world, suffused with violence and chicanery.The intrigue fizzes, and the dialogue continually surprises, switching between delicious lyricsm and a bracing simplicity.

Wolf Hall is the more excitingly tense of the two plays and could certainly be savoured on its own. But seeing both productions offers richer rewards.

Home - Press - Links - Charities
2011 - 2019 © Nat and Anna Parker fansite