The unofficial Nat and Anna Parker fansite
Wolf Hall/Bring up the Bodies, Swan Theatre, review
Charles Spencer finds the RSC's adaptation of Hilary Mantel's Booker prize-winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies splendidly entertaining and deeply touching
In my experience there is nothing like doing an Eng Lit degree at Oxford to put you off reading long literary novels.
So it was with an initial feeling of resentment that I tackled Hilary Mantelís two Booker Prize-winning novels about Thomas Cromwell and the Court of Henry VIII over the Christmas break. Together they come in at more than a thousand pages, and for the first fifty pages or so the going is tough. But once you are fully immersed in the historical world she so vividly creates, they are completely enthralling. Indeed I read the last two hundred pages of the second volume at a single sitting.
It is a real feather in the RSCís cap that they have obtained the stage rights to these books, which have been adapted by Mike Poulton in close collaboration with Mantel herself. Inevitably there are losses in seeing these wonderful books on stage. I missed Mantelís vivid descriptions of weather, food and the smells and sounds of Tudor England as well as the thought processes of Cromwellís subtle mind.
David Starkey has described Thomas Cromwell as Alastair Campbell with an axe but Mantel makes him a far more interesting figure than that. He is totally loyal to Cardinal Wolsey, even when it will do him harm, a cultivated and religious man who can also wield a knife. He also knows that his luck and his life could end at any moment but is tough enough to live with that knowledge.
Ben Miles captures many of these qualities, which also include an attractively dry wit, though I wished Poulton had retained the dramatic opening scene in which the 15 year old Cromwell is brutally beaten by his drunken father and has to escape to Europe to save his life. I also felt that Miles could have made more of the characterís grief over the death of his wife and children.
As we range through the fall of Wolsey, Henryís marriage to Anne Boleyn and all the bitterness, bad faith, dodgy confessions and executions that follow these two three-hour plays do sometimes feel like one damn thing after another. And though this is revisionist history that casts doubt on Thomas Moreís sanctity, it seems unnecessary for John Ramm to play him as a nerdy creep. Mantelís description of his mixture of piousness and self-regard is far more subtle than this production allows.
Nevertheless Jeremy Herrinís fleet staging, with gorgeous costumes and a raft of strong supporting performances grips almost throughout, and the destruction of Anne Boleyn and her supposed lovers in the second play proves splendidly dark and gripping. Nathaniel Parker captures Henry VIIIís disconcerting mixture of magnificence and petulance, Paul Jesson is a memorable, witty Wolsey who haunts the action even after his death while Lydia Leonard who so often seems vile and manipulative as Anne, somehow wins the audienceís pity at the end
Despite occasional longueurs, this Tudor double-bill is at best splendidly entertaining and at times deeply touching.
Home - Press - Links - Charities
2011 - 2019 © Nat and Anna Parker fansite