Turning a novel into a play is always something difficult and complicated. It is even more so when you have to adapt a novel set during the intrigue of the Tudor court of Henry VIII through the political intelligence of Thomas Cromwell.
But Mike Poulton as adaptor and Jeremy Herrin as director have done a terrific job which has as a result two incredible three-hour plays born from 1246 pages of novel written by Hilary Mantel.
23 stunning actors on stage for 43 characters ( 5 of them confusingly called Thomas).
The first part of the story, Wolf Hall is certainly the most difficult to adapt as it covers an 8 years lapse of time (between 1527 and 1535).
In Wolf Hall we have the rise of Cromwell and the downfall of Cardinal Wolsey; the accession to the throne of Anne Boleyn at the expense of Katherine of Aragon and the execution of Thomas More for his refusal to take the oath legitimizing Anne’s position.
If in Mantel’s books the story is told by Cromwell’s point of view, in Poulton’s adaptation, even if Cromwell’s influence on the story remains really strong, we have a more objective point of view.
Christopher Oram’s work as set and costume designer is excellent: few objects in scene, packing cases turn into a river boat and a clever change of lights and sounds to dictate the transition from day to night, from indoor to outdoor; with the addition of a heavy snowfall to increase the intensity of the funerals.
Several good stratagems also in the direction; first of all, the realization of the death of Cromwell’s wife who, just after a conversation to her husband about death, after the words “Don’t die Thomas. Don’t die. Don’t leave me alone” just left the stage leaving him gasping the air.
Theoretically, it’s easier to stage the second part, Bring Up the Bodies, as the plot takes place in a single year of storytelling.
It’s the 1535 and, starting from the downfall of Anna Boleyn,it’s end with her execution.
Bring Up the Bodies, however, is characterized by the abundant presence of ghosts, as Cardinal Wolsey or Thomas More.
During the two plays we see the clear transformation of Cromwell over the years and the danger of living in a period in which political power has no control.
If, on Thursday, June 19th, the Aldwych Theatre has had the honor of hosting in the audience for Wolf Hall important theater personalities as Jeremy Irons and David Tennant; on Saturday 21st the cast, at the end of Bring Up the Bodies has been awarded with the first, well-deserved standing.
Ben Miles (V for Vendetta) as Thomas Cromwell is terrific. The music from Joey Batey (The White Queen, Posh read here our news) lute is delightful. Lucy Briers (Children of Men) as Katherine of Aragon/Jane Boleyn and Lady Rochford, Paul Jesson (Coriolanus) as Cardinal Wolsey/Archbishop Warham/Sir John Seymour/Sir William Kingston and Lydia Leonard (The Fifth Estate) as Anne Boleyn are stunning. Daniel Fraser (The Patrol, here our review) as Cromwell’s son Gregory, Pierro Nel-Mee (City of Life) as Christophe (with an amazing and funny French accent)/Francis Weston and Nicholas Shaw (The Torment) as Harry Percy/William Brereton are the tangible proof on one of the best cast seen on stage this season.
Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies at the Aldwych Theatre until October 2014.
“Do the same to her brother and let the England forget they ever heard the name Boleyn”