Previewed 7 May 2014, Opened 17 May 2014, Closed 4 October 2014 at the Aldwych Theatre in London
The Royal Shakespeare Company present Mike Poulton's acclaimed stage adaptation of Hilary Mantel's prize-winning novel Bring Up the Bodies in London - presented in repertory with Wolf Hall - for a strictly limited season.
Continuing the story from Wolf Hall - Anne Boleyn is now Queen, her path to Henry VIII's side cleared by Cromwell. But Henry remains without a male heir, and the conflict with the Catholic Church has left England dangerously isolated as France and the Holy Roman Empire ominously manoeuvre for position. When the King begins to fall in love with the seemingly plain Jane Seymour, Cromwell must negotiate an increasingly dangerous court as he charms, bullies and manipulates nobility, commoners and foreign powers alike to satisfy Henry, keep the nation safe, and advance his own ambitions.
Hilary Mantel's novel Bring Up the Bodies returns to King Henry's court to witness Thomas Cromwell's seemingly unstoppable power and influence as he plots the downfall of Anne Boleyn. Like Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel's 2012 novel Bring Up the Bodies won her the Man Booker Prize, she thus became the first British author and the first woman to be awarded two of these coveted prizes, as well as being the first to win for two consecutive novels.
The cast for Bring Up the Bodies in London features Ben Miles as 'Thomas Cromwell', Nathaniel Parker as 'King Henry VIII', Lydia Leonard as 'Anne Boleyn', Paul Jesson as 'Cardinal Wolsey' and Lucy Briers as 'Katherine of Aragon'. It is directed by Jeremy Herrin with movement by Siān Williams, designs by Christopher Oram, lighting by David Plater, music by Stephen Warbeck and sound by Nick Powell. This production comes into London's West End following a successful season earier this year at the RSC's Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.
When this production opened in London Henry Hitchings in the London Evening Standard highlighted that "these adaptations by Mike Poulton are a remarkable achievement, compressing over 1,000 pages into two plays that preserve the books' absorbing density but are also admirably crisp and clear," adding that "Ben Miles is superb, conveying Cromwell's charisma and efficiency in a style that's both relaxed and magnetic." Patrick Marmion in the Daily Mail praised "this magnificent adaptation of Hilary Mantel's blood-dipped political masterpieces." Mark Lawson in the Guardian thought that "Hilary Mantel and dramatist Mike Poulton and director Jeremy Herrin bring to the familiar tale of doomed wives and religious convulsion a thrilling originality of psychology and storytelling." Jane Shilling in the Daily Telegraph noted how "Christopher Oram's designs and Stephen Warbeck's subtle score are beautifully atmospheric." Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times praised the "magnificent staging." Kate Bassett in the Times wrote that the plays have been "engrossingly adapted from Hilary Mantel's hit novels."
When this same production opened in Stratford Dominic Maxwell in the Times described how "the RSC's adaptations of Hilary Mantel's two prize-winning novels of political chicanery at the court of Henry VIII make for gripping yet darkly funny accounts of how Thomas Cromwell helped change the history of Britain." Henry Hitchings in the London Evening Standard noted that "the staging is fluent and mostly very simple; there's a lot to get through, and the approach taken by director Jeremy Herrin and designer Christopher Oram is to keep obstructions to a minimum... The result is meaty, intelligent drama, and great credit must go to Poulton for distilling Mantel's two dense, brick-like novels into a pair of plays that, though undeniably long, are smartly focused. What could feel like a dusty history lesson instead seems a miracle of compression." Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail explained that "with Miss Mantel's novels each as fat as a brick, script-writer Mike Poulton pulls off a remarkable act of compression. What saves it from becoming a history lesson is the magnetic central character of Thomas Cromwell, the legal fixer who rose from the flavoured gutter to become Henry's powerful confidant," adding that "Ben Miles is perfect as Cromwell, shrewd but wary, his voice classless, his countenance able to suggest obeisance to the landed nobility even while we can see that he thinks them idiotic." Neil Norman in the Daily Express said that "on a set of utter simplicity with minimal props the huge cast evoke the court of Henry VIII with some brilliance. Properly attired in period costume there isn't a weak link," adding that this was "historical drama of the highest calibre." In the Daily Telegraph Charles Spencer wrote that "despite occasional longueurs, this Tudor double-bill is at best splendidly entertaining and at times deeply touching." Paul Taylor in the Independent highlighted that as Thomas Cromwell "Ben Miles is superlative at conveying the inner complexities of the man - the shrewd watchfulness, the sense of banked-down grief, the little flashes of sardonic humour." In the Financial Times Ian Shuttleworth thought that "Mike Poulton's adaptations are masterly... Poulton and director Jeremy Herrin are unafraid to allow visual moments to make an impact on their own dramatic terms without including the novels' explanation." Michael Billington in the Guardian noted how "Jeremy Herrin's production propels the action forward with superb economy... watching the two plays together over a span of six hours is an occasionally exhausting but mostly exhilarating experience."
"Paule Constable's lighting is atmospheric and the ensemble acting is glorious. And there are show-stopping performances from Paul Jesson's earthy, honest Cardinal Wolsey and Lydia Leonard's spry, spirited Anne Boleyn, both of whom pay a high price for becoming the King's favourites. But, as canny Cromwell says, there are no endings, only beginnings. The ending here, with Henry marrying wife No 3, leaves us on tenterhooks." The Mail on Sunday
"Mike Poulton has followed Mantel in creating 16th-century speech that sounds authentic without a hint of affectation. The dialogue abounds in natural and domestic metaphor and crackles with wit. Poulton's adaptation is adroit and fast-moving, fitting 1,000 tightly packed pages into a total of five and a half hours of stage time without ever seeming rushed or perfunctory. It seizes on the theatrical opportunities offered by the book... The production is lucidly directed by Jeremy Herrin and austerely designed by Christopher Oram... It is hard to see how the adaptation could be bettered." The Express on Sunday
"The director crowds both of his stagings with acting talent. Lucy Briers, an actress whose forte is incarnating women in the doldrums, brings a frosty fury to Katherine of Aragon... Paul Jesson has oodles of fun in cardinal red as a worldly Wolsey, and Joshua James makes good use of his wonderfully insinuating phizog in the role of Cromwell's confidant and chief clerk, Rafe. Nathaniel Parker brings a sly innocence to Henry VIII, a self-deceiving jock with the shoulders of a fullback whose main responsibilities are hunting, jousting and securing a male heir... Mantel's loving, pitiless appraisal of Cromwell is accompanied by the steadily dawning realisation that "those who are made can be unmade" as swiftly as Henry's bed sheets. Again and again, there's incomprehension as the dusk of someone's life closes in. Christopher Oram's design - with its sudden hearth fires and cross-shaped window sometimes flooded with light, sometimes looking onto a brick-walled dead end - reminds us how death-stalked every character is." The Sunday Times
The play Bring Up the Bodies in London at the Aldwych Theatre previewed from 7 May 2014, opened on 17 May 2014 and closes on 4 October 2014.