Review Roundup: RSC's WOLF HALL and BRING UP THE BODIES
On Saturday 17th May, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies celebrated their opening night at the Aldwych Theatre, London WC2. The West End company includes Ben Miles as Cromwell, Nathaniel Parker as Henry VIII, Lydia Leonard as Anne Boleyn, Paul Jesson as Cardinal Wolsey and Lucy Briers as Katherine of Aragon.
Let's see what the critics had to say:
Michael Coveney of whatsonstage: Poulton's writing is serviceable rather than inherently dramatic, with jokes tacked on, not always good ones, incorporating the fall of Cromwell's hero, Cardinal Wolsey (a blustery Paul Jesson) and the disposal of Sir Thomas More (a desperate John Ramm); at times in Wolf Hall, you feel you are watching a flat version of Shakespeare's Henry VIII rolled into a skewed re-write of Robert Bolt's A Man For All Seasons.
Jane Shilling of the Daily Telegraph: Nathaniel Parker as Henry VIII is strongest when expressing Henry's humanity: his impetuosity, petulance, vanity and generosity. His regal strain of violence and menace is less clearly developed. Ben Miles's Cromwell, with his flat London accent and watchful, calculating presence, tempered with flashes of humour and rare kindness, is a finely realised performance.
Mark Lawson of the Guardian: The extraordinary enthusiasm for these books across page, stage and screen is partly due to the inherent dramatic power of the narratives: Henry VIII is probably the only figure, apart from Jesus Christ, of whom even the most truanting British schoolchild will have heard... Even so, Mantel and dramatist Mike Poulton and director Jeremy Herrin bring to the familiar tale of doomed wives and religious convulsion a thrilling originality of psychology and storytelling. Elegantly compressing 1,246 pages of print into just over five and a half hours of stage time, the productions compellingly combine absolute dramatic clarity with tantalising historical ambiguity.
Kate Bassett of the Times: Jeremy Herrin's staging has winning fluidity, with Miles - in fur-trimmed cloak and riding boots - spinning on his heel from one scene into the next. Having to fillet such long novels, Mike Poulton's dramatisation suffers from a few narrative lurches; some cameos are sketchy; and Cromwell's reforming zeal for Tyndale's polemical English Bible translation never quite comes into focus. That said, this adaptation also strategically leaves gaps in the portrayals of its historic protagonists. Thus, intriguingly, you're never quite sure of the whole truth, especially concerning the damning "evidence" of adultery that Cromwell prises from Boleyn's coterie. Miles' mercurial mix of kindness and callousness is anti-simplistic and more sympathetic than many previous depictions of Cromwell. Parker's Henry is complex as well, half-believing his own trumped-up excuses for divorce, blaming his lack of a male heir on sin and witchcraft.
Henry Hitchings of the Evening Standard: Ben Miles' 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... 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... Lydia Leonard'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 Katherine of Aragon... Crucially, Poulton reproduces Mantel's ability to have fun with the past while also valuing authenticity. 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.