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.