Wolfhall – Hilary Mantel’s novel takes to the stage

Mike Poulton’s adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize winning novel Wolfhall is masterful and enthralling.  After sell out performances in Stratford the play has transferred to London where it is continuing to delight audiences.  Mike Poulton has done an outstanding job of adapting this lengthy novel for the stage.  He keeps momentum throughout the play, incorporating the key events from the novel and enabling the characters to develop beautifully so they feel authentic and genuine.  This in itself is no little accomplishment.

Set in the Court of Henry VIII the play traces the rise of Thomas Cromwell and Anne Boleyn against the backdrop of religious tensions and ideological changes creeping across Europe.  As in the novel the story is told through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, a commoner, who we first meet as Cardinal Wolsey’s right-hand man and who eventually rises to become the King’s advisor and fixer.  Ben Miles has won universal praise for his portrayal of Cromwell and indeed he is terrific.  His characterisation brings us a clever blend of sophisticated self-made man and brutish survivor; as the bold mercenary, the fine legal mind, the astute businessman and sensitive family man that Mantel created for her novels.  He dominates the stage and keeps us transfixed as the events leading to Wolsey’s death, Anna’s coronation and Moore’s eventual execution unfold.

Nicholas Day is brilliant as the pompous and cantankerous Norfolk who helps ground the story in the day-to-day dealings of the Court and the families who struggle for the King’s favour.  John Ramm and Giles Taylor are solemn and eloquent as Moore and Crammer, who provide the necessary framework to convey the complexity of the religious situation and political tensions that surround Henry’s desire for an annulment from Katherine of Aragon (his first wife).  In fact the whole cast is terrific, Paul Jesson is a funny, warm and worldly Wolsey who’s fall from grace and eventual death marks the rise of Anne Boleyn (Lydia Leonard) and the Boleyn family fortunes. Cromwell secures his place at Court by being instrumental in the legalities that annul Henry’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon and leave him free to marry Anne Boleyn, who has promised him sons.  As this promise seems increasingly unlikely to be fulfilled we are subtly made aware of Jane Seymour and the slow but definite move of the King’s attention and focus towards her.  Bring Up The Bodies (to be reviewed later this month) takes up the story as we see the transfer of the King’s desires to Jane Seymour, the demise of Anne Boleyn and the continued ascent of Cromwell.

Both Wolfhall and Bring up the Bodies are showing in New York from the 20th March 2015.  Click here for more information:  http://wolfhallbroadway.com/

WolfHall is showing at Aldwych Theatre in London until 06th September 2014.
More information can be found at: http://www.aldwychtheatre.com/shows/wolf-hall/