Wolf Hall/Bring Up the Bodies – reviews of West End shows

May 27, 2014

West End transfer of RSC's 'magnificent' Mantel dramas gets even better, say critics

Keith Pattison

What you need to know The RSC's dramatisations of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies have transferred to the Aldwych Theatre, West End. Mike Poulton has adapted Mantel's Man Booker Prize-winning novels into two three-hour plays, which can be seen separately or as a double-bill. 

Set in 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. Runs until 6 September.

What the critics like
The RSC's "magnificent" staging of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies is "vivid and subtle", says Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times. Ben Miles is superb in the role of Cromwell, and the excellent RSC ensemble create crisply defined characters with a few strokes.

Slightly trimmed and rewritten since Stratford, the West End productions now impress even more with their "astonishing narrative economy", says Mark Lawson in The Guardian. These two fast, darkly comic plays will not disappoint fans of modern political dramas such as House of Cards. 

The adaptations unerringly pull out the wittiest and most important bits of each novel, making "Mantel's mass of subplots and secondary characters sing", says Andrzej Lukowski in Time Out. Each play stands alone, but do yourself a favour and see both together, to journey all the way into this heart of English darkness.

What they don't like 
"The fact that their narratives unfold largely in internal reverie make Mantel's books tricky subjects for dramatisation," says Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph. The two plays are subtle and exhilarating, but cannot quite capture the haunting strangeness that makes Mantel's fictions so potently original.

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