Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies - RSC, Stratford-on-Avon review

By Ian Hughes Thursday 09 January 2014 Updated: 09/01 10:40

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Buy photos » Ben Miles (Thomas Cromwell). (s)

Wolf Hall/Bring Up The Bodies

RSC Swan Theatre

Stratford

HILARY Mantel's Booker Prize winning novels on the shenanigans at Henry VIII's court have proved tough going for many, but those who did get lost within Mantel's dense prose, should have no problems with their superb stage productions.

The 1,000 plus pages of the two novels combined have been adapted by Mike Poulton, along with input from the author herself, into two gripping three hour plays.

At the centre of the action is master politician and master manipulator Thomas Cromwell. Mantel has employed her artistic licence to portray the inner workings of the man described by historian David Starkey as Alastair Campbell with an axe.

Tasked with bringing Cromwell to life on stage, Ben Miles, has it would appear from reading the programme, lived and breathed the man - who rose from commoner to the most powerful man in Tudor England after the King - for a good few months.

His is certainly a rather different face to that of the rather stern famous portrait painted by Hans Holbein. Miles, who is rarely off the stage during the two plays, brings a nod and a wink humanity to Cromwell, which however close or wide of the mark in reality, hits home here. Cromwell is a survivor, and one who does so by reacting on the hoof to events within the ever fickle Tudor court. Miles' ambitious politician is also a devoted family man, loyal, particularly to old boss Wolsey in both life and death, and quick-witted, with retorts arch spin doctor Malcolm Tucker would be proud of.

Nathaniel Parker's Henry VIII avoids tired stereotypes as he strives for the elusive son and heir and becomes increasingly reliant on his Mr Fix-it Cromwell to shuffle his wifely pack.

The wives are wonderfully realised by Lucy Briers' regally affronted Katherine of Aragon, Lydia Leonard's bulldozingly ambitious Anne Boleyn, and Leah Brotherhead's mousey Jane Seymour, all supported by an equally fine cast, who literally take centre stage on the starkest of sets seen in many a year at the RSC.

There is intrigue, infidelity and execution in Mantel's Tudor world, but there is also genuine human warmth and no lack of humour. A winning combination.

Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies run in repertoire until March 29.

Visit www.rsc.org.uk or call the box office on 0844 800 1110 for tickets and further details.

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Buy photos» Nathaniel Parker (Henry VIII). (s)

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Buy photos» Lydia Leonard (Anne Boleyn). (s)

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