Previewed 1 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 Wolf Hall in London - presented in repertory with Bring Up the Bodies - for a strictly limited season.
England in 1527. Henry VIII has been King for almost 20 years and is desperate for a male heir. Intent on divorce he demands that Cardinal Wolsey persuade the Pope to grant him an annulment. With every month that passes without progress the King's anger grows. Into this volatile court enters the commoner Thomas Cromwell. A one-time mercenary, master-politician, lawyer and doting father, he sets out to grant the King his desire whilst methodically and ruthlessly pursuing his own reforming agenda. The story continues in Bring Up the Bodies.
The cast for Wolf Hall 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 Paule Constable, 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 Kate Bassett in the Times noted how "Jeremy Herrin's staging has winning fluidity" and Mark Lawson in the Guardian said that in "elegantly compressing 1,246 pages of print into just over five and a half hours of stage time, the productions compellingly combine absolute dramatic clarity with tantalising historical ambiguity." Henry Hitchings in the London Evening Standard thought that "director Jeremy Herrin marshals a large cast with impressive fluency... Wolf Hall is the more excitingly tense of the two plays and could certainly be savoured on its own. But seeing both productions offers richer rewards." Patrick Marmion in the Daily Mail said that "Jeremy Herrin's production is nothing less than a theatrical juggernaut. Its crowning glory is the performance of a lifetime from Ben Miles, who turns Henry VIII's notorious chancellor Thomas Cromwell into a very modern man." Jane Shilling in the Daily Telegraph highlighted that "Jeremy Herrin's account of the two plays has a taut intelligence," adding that even "if these adaptations don't quite capture Mantel's potent originality, their verve, intelligence and wit are exhilarating, none the less." Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times commented that "Jeremy Herrin's nimble, fluid and enthralling staging... convey[s] the reach of Hilary Mantel's great novels, as well as the rough and tumble."
When this same production opened in Stratford Paul Taylor in the Independent praised "this brilliant union between the RSC and Hilary Mantel" saying that the stage plays showed "exhilarating stage-craft and masterly narrative compression." In the Times Dominic Maxwell commented that "if the idea of turning two dense, immersive but measured novels into two three-hour dramas ever seemed like optimism to the point of folly, Mike Poulton's deft adaptations and Jeremy Herrin's fast, fluid production soon set you right as soon as Wolf Hall begins.... this remains a bold, unforgettable lesson in history and politics." Henry Hitchings in the London Evening Standard described how the novels have "been expertly adapted for the stage by Mike Poulton. Working closely with Hilary Mantel, he has crafted a rewarding epic in which we see the court of King Henry VIII in all its glory and ruthlessness," adding that "its two parts span six hours, though either could be enjoyed on its own." Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail wrote that "the staging naturally can not cover all the ground of the novels. We lose some of the gastronomic colour in Mantel, and Cromwell's tragic home life is underdone. But the essentials of the 16th century power tussle are here." In the Daily Express Neil Norman highlighted that "this is event theatre of the highest brow: Mike Poulton's dramatisation of the two novels that have made Hilary Mantel the literary award queen of the 21st century... Here Cromwell takes centre stage and Ben Miles's subtle, serpentine performance drives the drama through the dark alleys of Tudor England." Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph said that "Jeremy Herrin's fleet staging... with gorgeous costumes and a raft of strong supporting performances, grips almost throughout." Ian Shuttleworth in the Financial Times commented that "taken together, they serve as an inspiring contemporary analogue of Shakespearean history plays at their best - some way better than his own Henry VIII." Michael Billington in the Guardian explained how "even if Hilary Mantel's poetic eye for detail gets somewhat lost, Mike Poulton has done an outstanding job in turning the books into two epic three-hour plays that, in Jeremy Herrin's RSC production, make for a gripping piece of narrative theatre."
"Immovable object (Hilary Mantel's supreme, dauntingly fat historical novels) meets irresistible force (the courageous adaptor, Mike Poulton, and director, Jeremy Herrin) - and they co-operate just beautifully in the RSC's double bill... The staging is kept fleet and simple. The opposite of a pageant play, it doesn't overdo the pomp, seducing us briskly and confidently. Court intrigues are carefully, enthrallingly delineated, and Poulton and Herrin ensure the audience always knows who the key players are... The achievement of these adaptations isn't simply that they do Mantel's works no disservice. They revivify history and deepen our apprehension of the Tudors, even as they uncover the contagious nature of tyranny and the worst of what people do to each other, and themselves. Souls are at stake, and you can smell the scorching." The Sunday Times
"Mike Poulton's nimble adaptations of Hilary Mantel's Booker prizewinning novels... What distinguishes Mantel, not only from Shakespeare and Fletcher but from the hundreds of writers who have explored these familiar events, is that she writes from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell himself... Mantel paints him as a man eager to disseminate the gospel in English, stoically enduring the slurs of boorish aristocrats; concerned for the welfare of such political opponents as Katherine and her daughter Mary and even that of deadly enemies such as Thomas More. The portrait is as contentious on the stage as on the page... Ben Miles is a masterful Cromwell, part scholar, part bureaucrat." The Express on Sunday
First published in 2009, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall centred around the intrigues of Henry VIII's Tudor Court as told through the eyes and ears of Thomas Cromwell, a blacksmith's son who became one of the King's closest and most trusted advisors. The novel became an instant, international bestseller and won numerous awards including the 2009 Man Booker Prize.
The play Wolf Hall in London at the Aldwych Theatre previewed from 1 May 2014, opened on 17 May 2014 and closes on 4 October 2014.