History from the eye of the hurricane, which is also a view into history’s engine room. Thomas Cromwell, a powerful politician of lowly origins is turning the wheels.
For quite a while, the world’s bigger picture develops according to his design: Henry VIII separates from Katherine of Aragon and marries Anne Boleyn, in which process, as a by-product, Reformation is implemented and the Anglican Church takes its course; Thomas More loses his office and his head; the world holds its breath.
It is around the character of this Thomas Cromwell, who is only documented with regard to public events, that Hilary Mantel wrote Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, two historical novels that both were awarded the prestigious Man Booker Prize.
Compacted to play length by Mike Poulton, two dramas were created for the Royal Shakespeare Company. They are being performed in the Swan Theatre either individually or as a double bill.
In this first part, fall and death of his mentor Wolsey and the loss of his wife and daughter are the most formative moments for Cromwell; the human being emerges behind the power figure, with actions as much emotional as they are pragmatic.
Leading actor Ben Miles seizes Cromwell’s multi-layered personality from within, as a silent person that often pauses and listens to the reverberations of emotions and developments. Miles gives shape to the political genius at all times interlocked with a precarious position of the man who, at times, was the most powerful man in England. A stage presence in a class of its own, with a marathonic performance in text and physical presence on stage.
Nathaniel Parker as Henry VIII is the second lead. He depicts him highly intelligible as caught between confused godliness, the belief in his God given rights connected to the duty to father a male heir, and the drivenness in all too human weaknesses. This king, dangerous in his uncontrolled ways, becomes understandable, even somehow likeable to the audience’s eyes.
Henry’s first wife, Queen Katherine (Lucy Briers), appears as the voice of reason, and despite all humiliations, she pursues an approach of wisdom.
Coquettish, playful and flirtatious, where she doesn’t spit hatred, Lydia Leonard as Anne Boleyn, for a while is the pivotal and focal point at court. Powerfully, Leonard leads her character to the climax at her coronation, thus – and palpable in a glimpse – already almost to the verge of the abyss.
Also remarkable: John Ramm as Thomas More, the unchristian saint, who didn’t fall due to his torturing fanaticism but because of being true to a rather harmless principle.
Hilarious: Oscar Pearce as Anne Boleyn’s quirky brother George.
“Uncle Norfolk” is presented by Nicholas Day just as you had imagined him when reading the novel, and the performance by Nicholas Shaw as Harry Percy, Earl of Northumberland also deserves a special mention.
A smaller, but very particular highlight is set by Piero Niel Mee with his interpretation of Christophe, a French guttersnipe, Cromwell’s alter ego, adopted into his household by the man himself. A clever and sensitive performance in a small part, one can only hope to see more of this young man in the future.
Director: Jeremy Herrin, Music by: James Jones
Wolf Hall will was shown in Stratford until 29 March 2014, subsequently, from late May to 4 October 2014 in London, at the Aldwych Theatre, and as of 20 March 2015 on Broadway, at the Winter Garden Theatre.
Photos by Keith Pattison
THE HISTORICAL CHARACTERS – HERE
This blog post has also been published in German on http://artyviews.wordpress.com/2014/01/04/wolf-hall/