"Sumptuous Hilary Mantel Tudor intrigue"
by Michael Gray for remotegoat on 22/07/18

Running just shy of three hours, with a cast of two dozen, some playing more than one part, it’s a huge undertaking for any group.
Originally written for the RSC, Mike Poulton’s ingenious re-working of the first novel in the Mantel trilogy explores the machinations of the Tudor court through the eyes of the blacksmith’s son who rose to become Henry VIII’s right-hand-man.
It looks sumptuous on the Bridewell stage – beautifully costumed, and played out on an uncluttered set that suggests the labyrinthine world of Austin Friars, York Place, Greenwich and the rest. The thirty scenes flow with exemplary ease – the furniture of Wolsey’s palace becomes the barge becomes Esher Place.
An impressive cast inhabits Mantel’s imagined world. As Henry, Martin Mulgrew gives us a brooding, brash monarch, raging against his lack of a male heir, turning on the realist Thomas Cromwell. Helen McCormack makes a feisty Katherine, looking in her black gown a little like a Tudor Queen Victoria. John Chapman is excellent as the coarse, choleric Norfolk, uncle to Sophie King’s ruthlessly ambitious Anne. A superbly sustained Cardinal from Adam Sutcliffe, a sympathetic figure in this version of history. Some sympathy too for Thomas More, the stoical ascetic who stands by his principles, in a compelling performance by Julian Farrance.
Deft doubling from Samuel Currie-Smith as Rafe, Cromwell’s young secretary, and Harry Percy, Bryony Purdue as Lady Jane Rochford and Princess Mary, and Will Howells as Bishop Gardiner and Ambassador Chapuys.
Crum himself, the Putney boy who used to stick knives in people, is given a powerful, if slow-burning performance by Dickon Farmar, quietly scheming, making himself indispensable, weeping over the prayer book of his late wife, strongly played by Jessica Hammett.
Dan Usztan’s production has many fine moments: the music, especially the numbers sung live [Purdue again], the moment when Liz lifts the cloth to reveal her own coffin, and the ending, as the King and Cromwell, surrounded by ghosts, anticipate the new age, the ascent of Jane Seymour of Wolf Hall [Sarah McCarthy].
This of course will lead us into the second play, Bring Up The Bodies, which we hope the Tower will tackle in the future. This show [which tours to Lincoln’s Inn and the Minack] is their last at the Bridewell – their next season in September sees them installed in their new theatre in Stoke Newington.

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