High praise for The RSC's Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies

Thursday, January 09, 2014

The RSC's production of Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies, adapted by Mike Poulton from Hilary Mantel's Booker Prize-winning novels, opened at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, yesterday (8 January), garnering rave reviews from a string of critics.

Starring Ben Miles, the Tudor England-set plays tell the story of Thomas Cromwell, the son of a Putney blacksmith who works his way up to become a key figure in the court of King Henry VIII, and inextricably involved in the rise and fall of Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn.

The pairing of Hilary Mantel and the RSC is 'a marriage made in heaven', Paul Taylor declares in his five-star review for the IndependentHe praises the 'unflagging power and fascination' of the adaptation, which is full of 'exhilarating stage-craft and masterly narrative compression'. Like many of the reviewers, Taylor calls for the production to transfer to London's West End, arguing it 'must surely have a long life after Stratford.'

Writing in the Guardian, Michael Billington calls the production 'a gripping piece of narrative theatre'. Describing Miles' portrayal of Cromwell as 'totally compelling', he contrasts the plays' depiction of historical figures with those found elsewhere, saying 'all the main characters have a three-dimensional richness... that puts to shame a piece of costume drama like TV's The Tudors.' 'This is history made manifest', he concludes.

Simon Taverner is full of praise for Mike Poulton's adaptation in his two-part review for WhatsOnStage, proclaiming the writing as 'first class - a real gem of a script for audiences and actors alike.' The production is 'an exemplary piece of work', he says, staged with 'clarity, wit and plenty of very welcome humour.' He praises Jeremy Herrin's 'assured direction' and the creative team as a whole, saying 'Poulton, Herrin and Mantel have produced something quite special here'. 'The West End should beckon for these productions', he states, joining Paul Taylor in calling for a transfer.

'Meaty, intelligent drama', announces Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard. Dubbing the production 'a rewarding epic', like many others he reserves much of his attention for the script. 'Great credit must go to Poulton', he says. 'The writing is accessible, combining wit and humanity... what could feel like a dusty history lesson instead seems a miracle of compression.' In a similar vein, The Stage's Heather Neill calls the plays 'a triumph of clarity', also picking out Ben Miles' 'riveting' performance.

The RSC's production of Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies runs at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon until 29 March. The scripts, available in a single volume priced at £10.99, are co-published by Nick Hern Books and 4th Estate. They can be purchased through this website here