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Wolf Hall & Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall - Photographer Joe Stockwell
Wolf Hall – Photographer Joe Stockwell

A sure-fire way to judge a play is to ask two questions: Is this enjoyable? How quickly does time pass? On both counts, these productions pass with flying colours. Hugely entertaining and utterly engrossing – the six hours was over all too soon. Teddington Theatre Club have put together an outstanding version of Hilary Mantel’s novels Wolf Hall (2009) and Bring Up the Bodies (2012).

I watched both parts back to back yesterday – matinée and evening. A wonderful opportunity to immerse oneself in the England of the 1520s and 1530s. About the contemporary relevance of the first two parts of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy (the third part The Mirror and The Light is due 2020), there can be no doubt. For the events of 1534 can be seen as the original Brexit. Or should that be Egxit? This was the moment when England, not Britain, left Catholic Europe and defied the authority of the Pope for the first time in over a 1,000 years. Substitute the European Union for the Roman Catholic Church and the President of the EU for the Pope and the parallels are glaringly obvious.

You may say that the quality of Mantel’s writing is so high that any production was bound to succeed, and whilst that holds true up to a point still it must be brought to life on stage. Here Mike Poulton has done a fantastic job of lossless compression. He has stripped everything down to the bare essentials. This cuts to the chase and avoids unnecessary repetition. This judicious use of Ockham’s Razor is complemented by Sally Halsey’s no-nonsense direction. She has a clear vision of what she wants to say and wisely cuts out all that tedious scene change malarkey. The set by Junis Olmscheid creates the world of the court and its great houses with the minimum of fuss and demonstrates yet again that less is more. Like a Velasquez painting, the set suggests the scene and lets the audience fill in the details. Inevitably costumes are crucial for character presentation and here Lesley Alexander and her team have done wonders. The clothes hierarchy is made plain: the elite wear bright colours everyone else wears black. Only the King gets to wear gold.

The central character in the drama is Thomas Cromwell (1485- 1540) not to be confused with namesake Oliver Cromwell ( 1599-1658). A useful tip they lived in different centuries. One worked for a King the other killed a King. The first part of the double bill Wolf Hall shows his rise to power. Mocked for being the son of a blacksmith and born in Putney (frequently brought up by his enemies, so much so that when ennobled by the King he declines the title Baron Cromwell of Putney and takes instead Baron Cromwell of Wimbledon) Thomas Cromwell is a new type of man. His rise to become Henry VIII’s right-hand man, trusted spin doctor and enforcer provides us with a ringside seat in the years (1520-1540) of England’s original Egxit.

Bring Up The Bodies - Photographer Joe Stockwell
Bring Up The Bodies – Photographer Joe Stockwell

The second part, Bring Up the Bodies shows Cromwell outmanoeuvring Anne Boleyn. Dave Brickwood is quite simply superb as Thomas Cromwell. On stage for six hours he gives a performance of such outstanding quality that it bears comparison with the great Mark Rylance. He has a combination of seriousness, cunning and self-awareness that makes him compellingly watchable and likeable. Ian Kinane as King Henry V111 is perhaps too slim and a bit too poetic but brings out very well Henry’s paranoia, persecution mania and self-serving self-pity. How he asks in astonishment does Anne know all these different lovemaking positions? Rebecca Hutchinson is excellent as Anne Boleyn. Her Machiavellian ruthlessness is brought home again and again. As others keep repeating Anne always gets what she wants. A master at sexual power games, she keeps Henry at bay (he’s got no higher than the knee remarks her sister Mary) until the rings on her finger. The cast of strong and fascinating characters constitutes an embarrassment of riches: Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Thomas Cranmer, Thomas Moore, Stephen Gardiner, Jane Seymour, Thomas Wyatt, Katherine of Aragon, Princess Mary, Mary Boleyn and many many more. Just as in the FA Cup, lower league teams can defeat Premier League giants so in the theatrical equivalent a fine ammeter company like the Teddington Theatre Club can compete with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Hats off to everyone at Teddington Theatre Club for putting on such a richly rewarding and hugely enjoyable double bill.

4 stars

Review by John O’Brien

The year is 1527. King for almost 20 years, Henry has no male heir. While Catherine is determined to remain Queen, Henry obsesses about replacing her with a wife who can give him a son. In a highly dangerous and politically charged court, this could be a golden opportunity for a man with the right talents. Enter Thomas Cromwell…

Mike Poulton’s two-part adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s acclaimed novels ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ is a thrilling and utterly convincing portrait of a brilliant man embroiled in the lethal, high-stakes politics of the court of King Henry VIII.

PART ONE: Wolf Hall – Cromwell sets out to achieve the King’s desire whilst methodically and ruthlessly pursuing his own reforming agenda.

PART TWO: Bring Up the Bodies – Cromwell must negotiate within an increasingly perilous court to satisfy Henry, keep the nation safe and advance his own ambitions.

Thomas Cromwell – Dave Brickwood
Elizabeth (Lizzie) Cromwell – Ruth Chaperlin
Gregory Cromwell – Bradley Gray
Rafe Sadler – Rob Wallis
Christophe – Anton Agejev

Henry Tudor – Ian Kinane
Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk – Charles Halford
Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk – Geraint Thomason
Henry Norris – Tom Wright
William Brereton – Darren Mcilroy
Francis Weston – Nate Higgins
French Ambassador – Nate Higgins

Katherine of Aragon – Caroline Ross
Princess Mary – Meaghan Baxter
Ambassador Eustace Chapuys – Luke Daxon

Anne Boleyn – Rebecca Hutchinson
Mary Boleyn – Leigh Dent
Sir Thomas Boleyn – Roger Smith
George Boleyn – Bill Compton
Jane Rochford – Lydia Kennard
Elizabeth Worcester – Sian Walters
Mary Shelton – Leigh Dent
Harry Percy – Darren Mcilroy
Thomas Wyatt – Jerome Ifill
Mark Smeaton – Marc Batten

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey – Dave O’Roarty
Thomas Cranmer – John Mortley
Thomas More – Tom Wright
William Warham – Dave O’Roarty
Stephen Gardiner – Luke Daxon

Jane Seymour – Hannah Lobley
Sir John Seymour – Roger Smith
Marjorie Seymour – Mandy Stenhouse
Edward Seymour – Ruth Chaperlin

Sir William Kingston – Dave O’Roarty
Executioner of Calais – Tom Cooper
Executioner of Calais – Daniel Wain
Executioner of Calais – Steve Webb
Executioner of Calais – John Wilkinson
ENSEMBLE – Dave Dadswell

Production Team & Crew:
Director – Sally Halsey
Production Manager – Lottie Walker
Set Design – Junis Olmscheid
Lighting – Gary Stevenson
Sound – Harry Jacobs
Wardrobe – Lesley Alexander
Wardrobe – Margaret Boulton
Wardrobe – Fiona Breaks
Wardrobe – Maggie Revis
Wardrobe – Margaret Williams
Wardrobe – Mags Wrightson
Wardrobe Apprentice – Liz Garrigan
Props – Jacqui Grebot
Props – Tess Townsend
Stage Manager and Set Build – Kathryn Smith
Stage Crew – Meaghan Baxter
Stage Crew and Set Build – Harri Osborne
Stage Crew and Set Build – Tegan Ross
Stage Crew – Patrick Troughton
Stage Crew and Set Build – Olivia Wolfenden
Scenic Coordinator – Fiona Auty
Scenic Painting and Additional Props – Tom Wright
Set Build Supervisor – Alan Corbett
Set Build – Rob Arundel
Set Build – Tom Cooper
Set Build – Roger Kelting
Set Build – Ian Nethersell
Set Build – Mart Stonelake
Set Build and Rehearsal Prompt – Kelly-Marie Tuthill
Original Music – Will Williams
Choreography – Emma Knight
Production Assistant – Rebecca Hutchinson
Fight/Swordsman Coordinator – Dane Hardie
Production Photographer – Joe Stockwell
Location Photographer – Jojo Leppink
Foyer Decoration – Zoe Harvey-Lee

Wolf Hall & Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, adapted for the stage by Mike Poulton
Saturday 22nd June – Saturday 29th June 2019
Auditorium, Hampton Hill Theatre


  • John OBrien

    JOHN O’BRIEN born in London in 1960 is a born and bred Londoner. His mother was an illiterate Irish traveller. His early years were spent in Ladbroke Grove. He was born at number 40 Lancaster Road. In 1967 the family was rehoused in Hackney. He attended Brooke House School for Boys in Clapton, - as did Lord Sugar. He became head boy and was the first person in his family to make it to university, gaining a place at Goldsmiths College in 1978. He took a degree in Sociology and a PGCE . From 1982 until 1993 he taught at schools in Hackney and Richmond. In 1984-85 he attended Bristol University where he gained a Diploma in Social Administration. From 1985 until 1989 he studied part-time in the evenings for a degree in English Literature at Birkbeck College. He stayed on at Birkbeck from 1990-1992 to study for an MA in Modern English Literature. He left teaching in 1993 and has worked as a tutor, researcher, writer and tour guide. He leads bespoke guided tours on London’s history, art , architecture and culture. He has attended numerous courses at Oxford University - Exeter College, Rewley House & Kellogg College. In London, he attends courses at Gresham College, The National Gallery, The British Museum, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, The British Academy and The Royal Society. Read the latest London theatre reviews by all reviewers.

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1 thought on “Wolf Hall & Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel”

  1. Gregory Pincher

    An impressive production that defied near universal expectations that it would be awful. Well done!

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