by Hilary Mantel dramatised by Mike Poulton.
Aldwych Theatre 49 Aldwych WC2B 4DF In rep to 6 September 2014.
7.30pm Mon, Thu & 20, 27 May Mat Wed & Sat 2pm.
Runs 2hr 55min One interval.
Seats still available, with the best choice in July/August. There are also day seats available from 10.30am.
TICKETS: 0844 453 9025.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 17 May.
It’s Royal, pre-Shakespeare and a triumph for the theatre Company.
Why do well over five hours of Tudor intrigue pass as intriguingly as this? They have a soap-opera like fascination, without the TV after-effect that time’s passed pleasantly without any particular gain.
Tremendous skill and art make it happen. From already highly-rated novelist Hilary Mantel, whose two published novels about early Tudor hatchet-man Thomas Cromwell (a third is to come) retain their titles in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s adaptations (already a roaring success at Stratford-upon-Avon). From experienced adaptor Mike Poulton, who builds upon Mantel’s structure while providing plentiful intrigue and possibilities yet keeps events and characters clear.
And from Jeremy Herrin’s production which sympathises with the vast, ever-mobile structure. A character walks away to a different place. Reaching a stage corner they turn, just as they’ve made clear where they’re going, and the new scene starts. Or a fresh set of characters arrive in time and begin as if midstream. There’s no hurry, but a swift-paced, no let-up action.
We’re swept up in this action; if ever a production were a page-turner, this is it. And amidst the rightly neutral abstract setting designer Christopher Oram provides (no Tudor colour here) there’s space for events and groups of characters, a sense that life is present-tense and urgent, with dark possibilities looming. Nothing could smack less of self-conscious, or cosily fancied, history.
Along the way the plays revisit Robert Bolt’s sainted Thomas More of A Man for All Season, here seen first as a half-naked self-flagellant, obsessed by guilt, fleetingly seen afterwards as Cromwell’s opposite: a learned man stuck in his own principles.
Cromwell’s the opposite, repeatedly described as the outsider, a pleb among nobles, son of a blacksmith subject to derision from all except the king. For Henry VIII fears the aristocratic families with far longer lineages than the parvenu Tudors.
History can fill-in, with knowledge of the later days of Thomas Cranmer, a decidedly milksop priest from Giles Taylor, or the nervous mouse who will be queen, noticeable in her squawky voice, Leah Brotherhead’s Jane Seymour.
But every performance here contributes to a show that’s a triumph of company cohesion.
Thomas Cromwell: Ben Miles.
Lizzie Wykys/Mary Boleyn/Mary Shelton: Olivia Darnley.
Gregory Cromwell: Daniel Fraser.
Rafe Sadler: Joshua Silver.
Christophe/Francis Weston: Pierro Niél Mee.
King Henry VIII: Nathaniel Parker.
Katherine of Aragon/Jane Boleyn: Lucy Briers.
Princess Mary/Jane Seymour: Leah Brotherhead.
Anne Boleyn: Lydia Leonard.
Thomas Boleyn/Thomas Cranmer/French Ambassador: Giles Taylor.
George Boleyn: Oscar Pearce.
Thomas Howard: Nicholas Day.
Lady-in-Waiting/Maid: Madeleine Hyland.
Charles Brandon: Nicholas Boulton.
Thomas Wyatt: Jay Taylor.
Harry Percy/William Brereton: Nicholas Shaw.
Henry Norris/Thomas More: John Ramm.
Mark Smeaton: Joey Bates.
Thomas Wolsey/Archbishop Warham: Paul Jesson.
Stephen Gardiner/Eustache Chapuys: Matthew Pidgeon.
Wolsey’s Servant/Barge-Master: Benedict Hastings.
Ensemble: Mathew Foster, Robert Macpherson.
Director: Jeremy Herrin.
Designer/Costume: Christopher Oram.
Lighting: Paule Constable.
Sound: Nick Powell.
Music: Stephen Warbeck.
Musical Director: Rob Millett.
Movement: Siân Williams.
Voice coach: Stephen Kemble.
Fights: Bret Yount.
Associate director: Joe Murphy.
Associate designer: Lee Newby.
Associate lighting: Rob Casey.
Associate sound: Andy Hedges.