BRING UP THE BODIES
The Swan, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 29th January, 2014
The second half of this double bill with Wolf Hall, picks up the action a few years later, and it’s as if I haven’t left the theatre from the previous night; it is very much a continuation of mood, style and story. But what transpires in this instalment is that events become more serious, the implications and effects wider-reaching. Thomas Cromwell (Ben Miles) is now a prime mover and shaker, tasked by King Henry to annul the marriage to Anne Boleyn. Cromwell instigates an investigation into Boleyn’s household and the company she keeps, and there is a sense of mounting tension as each interview brings us closer to the outcome we know must transpire and matters come to a head. Mike Poulton’s adaptation somehow keeps the history fresh. We don’t see Boleyn’s execution, but the executioner rehearsing, explaining what his job entails, is enough for us to stage the scene in our imaginations. This is all the more chilling.
Miles is astonishingly good and is supported by an excellent ensemble of major and minor players. Nathaniel Parker shows us more colours of the ageing king, even eliciting our sympathy, bringing a wealth of humanity to the despotic monster. Lydia Leonard’s Anne Boleyn is a strident figure – I would have liked to see a little more vulnerability at times. Nicholas Shaw impresses as Harry Percy, embittered and facing death. Daniel Fraser’s Gregory has grown up – as Cromwell’s son he is a chink in his father’s armour, as Cromwell pursues his relentless Machiavellian plot to avenge the downfall and demise of Cardinal Wolsey (who appears as a ghost a few times, a conscience and confidant).
Cromwell’s rise to the top is at the expense of his compassion. There is a message here: the acquisition of power costs at a personal level.
Nick Powell’s sound design enriches the action on the bare stage: we can envisage the baying mob, an offstage jousting tournament – the entire show is presented with such economy, the actors are allowed to bring us the story in a direct and evocative manner. The play concludes with Henry’s marriage to Jane Seymour (a very funny Leah Brotherhead) and it feels like there should be more episodes to cover her fate and the other three wives to come… I hope Hilary Mantel and Mike Poulton have set their quills to work.
Thomas Cromwell (Ben Miles) Photo: Keith Pattison
Leave a comment | tags: Ben Miles, Bring Up The Bodies, Daniel Fraser, Hilary Mantel, Leah Brotherhead, Lydia Leonard, Mike Poulton, Nathaniel Parker, Nicholas Shaw, Nick Powell, review, RSC, Stratford upon Avon, The Swan, theatre review, Wolf Hall | posted in Theatre Review
The Swan, Stratford upon Avon, Tuesday 28th January, 2014
When I heard the RSC were adapting Hilary Mantel’s novels of doorstep proportion, I wondered if they had bitten off more than they could Tudor, but then I saw that it was Mike Poulton who was doing the adapting – he gave us a very enjoyable Canterbury Tales several years ago – so I knew we were in safe hands.
The first instalment covers much the same ground as Shakespeare’s very late play Henry VIII (or the first series of gaudy TV drama The Tudors). There is a sense of knowing, even foreboding about the enterprise; we know on whose side history’s favours will fall so there is plenty of nudge nudge wink wink dramatic irony at play.
It is also very funny. There is wryness to the dialogue and the characters are on the whole plain-speaking. We do not have to wade through dense verse or po-faced metaphor. The action is immediately accessible and with a three-hours running time, it needs to be!
Central to it all is Thomas Cromwell, a kind of go-to guy par excellence. His colourful past has given him the skills necessary to get just about anything done. And so he climbs the precarious ladder of Henry’s court. When we first meet him he is in the employ of the infamous Cardinal Wolsey (usually depicted as more of an out-and-out villain in this type of thing). Paul Jesson is very funny as this worldly clergyman. By contrast, John Ramm’s Thomas More is shown less warmly, very different from the admirable and unswerving man of principle in Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons.
The whole cast is very strong but I’m going to be churlish and single out a few for special mentions. Daniel Fraser is sweet as Cromwell’s son Gregory, playing youth and innocence convincingly despite his full-grown adult frame. Pierro Niel Mee is bloody hilarious as Cromwell’s rat-catching French servant Christophe, and Nathaniel Parker is effortlessly majestic and charismatic as King Henry. I also enjoyed Oscar Pearce’s bejewelled fop George Boleyn and Lucy Briers’s Hispanic intensity as Katherine of Aragon.
The costumes are perfect, conveying the period in lieu of scenery and there is atmospheric music from composer Stephen Warbeck.
Cromwell hardly leaves the stage, which means we get to see his public, at-work face and his private grief, in an excellent turn by Ben Miles. Jeremy Herrin’s direction keeps the action moving. Cromwell only has to turn on his heels and the scene has changed, and there are some lovely touches and understated moments.
The show ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, compelling you to come back for the sequel. And I most definitely shall!
He’s ‘Enery the Eighth he is, he is – Nathaniel Parker (Photo: Keith Pattison)
Leave a comment | tags: Ben Miles, Daniel Fraser, Hilary Mantel, Jeremy Herrin, John Ramm, Lucy Briers, Mike Poulton, Nathaniel Parker, Oscar Pearce, Paul Jesson, Piero Niel Mee, review, RSC, Stephen Warbeck, Stratford upon Avon, The Swan, theatre review, Wolf Hall | posted in Theatre Review