HILARY Mantel was given an ovation on the last preview night of Wolf Hall at the RSC this week, and it was much-deserved, because the stage adaptation of her prize-winning Tudor novel is as intriguing and witty as the book.
Sitting in the audience on the last night before Wednesday’s opening, she must be pleased with what adapter Mike Poulton and director Jeremy Herrin have achieved.
It is a dramatisation of a story all of England know well. Henry VIII sits on the throne but is desperate for a male heir. He wants to divorce a weathered Katherine of Aragon, and marry the fiery, power-lusting Anne Boleyn.
Enter Thomas Cromwell, a blacksmith’s son turned devilish accountant, a man who gets things done, whose persuasive tongue means he is “at all points correct”.
Ben Miles, who many will remember from BBC sitcom Coupling, shines through as the calculating yet conscientious protagonist.
Miles studies the other characters with furrowed brow, analysing exactly what they are saying before delivering the perfect response from this shrewd yet loyal man.
Quick scene changes force him to merge his exits and entrances, a trick that gives off the impression of a man in control, a player rarely flustered. His wife’s death is artfully dealt with, albeit in under a minute.
Cardinal Wolsey’s demise is given much more time. Paul Jesson is superb as Cromwell’s mentor in the first half, before his end is given the full Shakespearean works after the interval when the audience is treated to a play-within-a-play.
It’s only failing point is its length. At three hours and fifteen minutes, both halves drag on, and the ending is limp.
However, Mantel’s book is the first of three, and the second is already on at the RSC. Bring on Bring Up The Bodies.
Nathaniel Parker (Henry VIII) and Lydia Leonard (Anne Boleyn) also impress. All photos by Keith Pattison.
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