Home » London Theatre Reviews » The Mirror And The Light at the Gielgud Theatre, London | Review

The Mirror And The Light at the Gielgud Theatre, London | Review

It’s indicative of how highly King Henry (Nathaniel Parker) – the eighth, though the cast list does not, technically, specify – thought of Thomas Cromwell (Ben Miles) that the latter’s services are not dispensed with until the final scene. Whatever damage has been apparently done has already occurred, and without his wisest of wise counsels, it remained to be seen whether the likes of the Duke of Norfolk (Nicholas Woodeson) would do better. In a word, no: Henry may have divorced Anna (Rosanna Adams), the fourth wife, of the House of Cleves, Cromwell’s choice in his role as matchmaker, but he beheaded number five, Katherine Howard. Well, he instructed someone else arrange to have her beheaded – he was, after all, the king – but I trust you know what I mean.

Ben Miles as Thomas Cromwell and Giles Taylor as Archbishop Cranmer in The Mirror and the Light - Photo by Marc Brenner.
Ben Miles as Thomas Cromwell and Giles Taylor as Archbishop Cranmer in The Mirror and the Light – Photo by Marc Brenner.

Although the third instalment in a trilogy of plays is based on a trilogy of books (the first two being Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies), one need not necessarily have seen the others to understand proceedings in this one – it stands alone on its own merits. There’s a very classical look to this production, in which the king’s advisers largely look and sound similar, and until possibly two-thirds of the way through the second half, most of the scenes looked more or less the same too. Perhaps this was the production’s intention: to place more emphasis on the main characters, many of the less dominant characters must, for whatever reason, be practically indistinct from one another.

The king does that very unoriginal thing that stage (and screen) kings do, attempting to meet someone in disguise, only for some loyal subject or other to recognise him, albeit in plain clothes, as His Majesty The King, and promptly prostrate themselves. The king has a temper – if it’s a surprise that there aren’t more beheadings in this play, it’s because a lot of them have already happened, so there is more than one ghost. He even wants to dispense with Mary Tudor (Melissa Allan), his daughter from his first marriage (that is, to Katherine of Aragon) just because she’s Catholic.

There is some dramatic licence going on – one is not, rather like Six, the musical about the wives of Henry VIII, advertised on the back of this show’s programme – expected to take absolutely everything as utterly and completely historically accurate down to the last detail. But there is something of a missed opportunity here: the major plot points are no surprise, which is fine, and fair enough. There should, however, have been more of a sense of foreboding. Instead, when Thomas Cromwell is imprisoned in the Tower of London (not a spoiler, it’s in the history books), there’s more of a sense of resignation and acceptance, which makes his plea for clemency to the king bizarre: “I cry for mercy, mercy, mercy” – why would such an intelligent man bother, if he knows he’s not going to get it?

Some of the issues explored have their contemporary equivalents – the need to maintain cordiality with Europe at the time of essential commodity shortages stood out for me. There are also more laughs than I thought there would be in a tragedy play. Tony Turner’s Cardinal Wolsey gets a good punchline or two, and quite a few in the audience were amused, or perhaps bemused, by his dance moves at the back of the stage during a royal ball. It’s a decent enough evening at the theatre, but honestly, I found the novel more riveting.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Hilary Mantel and Ben Miles join forces to adapt the exhilarating and fast-paced conclusion of this thrilling story for the London stage, with Ben Miles reprising his “astonishing performance” (Daily Telegraph) as the legendary Thomas Cromwell.

If you cannot speak truth at a beheading, when can you speak it?

England, 1536. Anne Boleyn’s fate has been sealed by the executioner. Jane Seymour must deliver King Henry a healthy heir. And to the disgust of Henry’s nobles, Thomas Cromwell continues his ruthless ascent from the gutters of Putney to the highest rank beside his master. But Cromwell is vulnerable and his enemies are poised to strike.

The further you climb, the harder you fall.

Director Jeremy Herrin (This House, People, Places & Things, Labour of Love) and Designer Christopher Oram (Red, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Peter and Alice) reunite to take audiences racing through the blistering courts of Hilary Mantel’s Sunday Times best-seller.

Shaftesbury Avenue, London, W1D 6AR

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