RSC stages Mantel's Wolf Hall /Bring Up the Bodies - reviews

Jan 10, 2014

RSC turns Hilary Mantel's award-winning novels into two 'spendidly entertaining' three-hour plays

What you need to know
The Royal Shakespeare Company's dramatisations of Hilary Mantel's Man Booker Prize winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies have won over the critics. The best-selling novels were adapted for the stage into two three-hour plays by Mike Poulton.

Set in England Tudor England, the story follows King Henry VIII, who is desperate for a male heir and petitions Cardinal Wolsey to persuade the Pope to grant him an annulment so he may remarry. Commoner and master-politician Thomas Cromwell sets out to help the King, while ruthlessly pursuing his own agenda.

Jeremy Herrin directs Nathaniel Parker as King Henry VIII and Ben Miles as Thomas Cromwell. At the Swan Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon until 29 March.

What the critics like
"Transferring a winning novel to stage is difficult, but doing it with two - and succeeding - is a special feat," says Michael Billington in The Guardian. Poulton has done an outstanding job in turning the books into two epic three-hour plays that make for a gripping piece of narrative theatre and an exhilarating experience.

This Tudor double-bill is "splendidly entertaining and at times deeply touching", says Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph. Herrin's fleet staging grips throughout, and the destruction of Anne Boleyn in the second play proves splendidly dark and gripping.

It is a superb, "groaning banquet of political shenanigans and deadly intrigue", says Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail. This gripping, brutal tale has medieval plague and religious superstition, sex, sybaritic greed, and enough little daubs of cheek and gossip to show us that human nature has not much altered.

What they don't like
The first show (Wolf Hall) is a triumph; the second is "a notch less compelling", says Dominic Maxwell in The Times. Bring Up the Bodies is a quieter, more sombre show that loses its dramatic grip now and then, but this double-bill remains a bold, unforgettable lesson in history and politics.

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