Posted By Claire on July 23, 2014
Thank you so much to Marcia Wadham for writing this wonderful review of the RSC’s adaptations of Hilary Mantel’s novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies…
Hilary Mantel’s books are wonderfully brought to life in these stage plays from the RSC. It was hard to imagine how each book, with around 800 pages of well-crafted prose, could be condensed into three hours, but the results are mesmerising. The set is simple, the scene changes are slick, the choreography is breath-taking and the comic timing is perfect. As a piece of theatre, it is stunning.
My favourite aspect of Hilary Mantel’s books is her characterisation of Thomas Cromwell; hers is not a history of goodies and baddies, but of a complex, intelligent, flawed individual. Ben Miles’ portrayal brings this out perfectly. Although you are led to have a certain sympathy for him, you definitely cannot like him very much. Ordinarily, I have an intense dislike of individual actors making solo curtain calls, but in this case it seemed wholly appropriate, as Miles never left the stage and led the action flawlessly in every scene.
Even more than in the books, you have the sense throughout the plays that you are seeing history through the eyes of one of its protagonists. All of the characters are introduced according to the roles they play in the life of Thomas Cromwell – people who will one day be out to use his considerable abilities and influence with the King to get what they want, and the next will readily use their own power to attempt to bring him down. His own loyalties, of course, lie always in the place where they will give him the greatest advantage.
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