Thursday, April 23, 2015

Wolf Hall Parts I and II

Such a very impressive play. To see history unfold before you. Really interesting in part because I’ve always been interested in this part of history.

You also have to be a trooper to see both parts in one day since there is over five hours worth of play to see between 2pm and 10:45pm. There is enough time between plays to grab a bit to eat and get ready for the next one. It was a bonding experience with fellow theater patrons that were seeing both on the same day.

Here’s a little about each play from the play’s website:

England, 1527. The court of Henry VIII is in upheaval as the King rages over his lack of a male heir. But when Henry’s anger turns to passion for the alluring Anne Boleyn, the Pope refuses to grant him an annulment from his wife, Katherine of Aragon. Into the fray steps Thomas Cromwell, a shrewd and ambitious politician, who realizes that the man who gets Anne into Henry’s bed will win the favor of the Crown. Using charm, deception and wit, Cromwell will climb the thorny ladder of power and bring the King what he most desires.

Anne Boleyn is now the queen of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell has become the King’s chief adviser…and chief fixer. Anne has failed to deliver Henry a male heir, and the King turns his eyes towards a new conquest, Jane Seymour. Thomas Cromwell realizes his only hope to satisfy the hot-blooded Henry, and survive the deadly intrigue of the court, is to align with his greatest enemies. But whose head will pay for his ruthless ambition?

Those are the plays in a nut shell. A pretty big nut shell if I do say so. There are few if any props used in the plays. There’s also very little of a set. Just a large open stage. There are all sorts of comings and goings many times the actors coming down or out of the audience. Music is used to set many of the moods for the scenes. It is just really really well done.

From the NY Times:

The stage version, a production of the Royal Shakespeare Company, is strictly for fun. That may sound like a weak recommendation to those who wear their brows high. But being fun in period costume for nearly five-and-a-half hours of live theater is no mean achievement. This was my third visit to “Wolf Hall” (after seeing it at Stratford-upon-Avon and London last year), and I found myself just as much in its thrall, and even more admiring of its accomplishment.

But there’s method in Mr. Miles’s ostensible mildness. We begin by rooting for Cromwell, and we are happy to see a shadowy world through his spy’s eyes, as he connives his way into favor with Henry and, just as important, the ravenously ambitious Anne.

Then before you know it, he’s masterminding a series of self-serving, vengeance-driven executions of his foes and rivals. The effect is rather like seeing someone you befriended at the office in your early days of employment suddenly glowering at you from the executive suite. You don’t recognize your old friend at first, until you start to go over your shared history; then everything that person did makes chilling sense.

There’s a great article on Ben Miles who plays Thomas Cromwell.Here’s a little from it:
The ways in which Mr. Miles inhabits and “enhances” the role have made him “one of the shapers” of her third Cromwell novel, “The Mirror and the Light,” Ms. Mantel said, speaking at the Winter Garden during a rehearsal break. “He’s solved certain problems for me,” she said. “He’s pinned me to the moment and made me think deeply.”

Ms. Mantel spoke with particular admiration of Mr. Miles’s “ability to project ferocious energy while apparently doing nothing at all, while being absolutely still.” But that intensity has come with practice and at considerable cost. During each performance, Mr. Miles is offstage only for moments. “Even Hamlet gets a break,” said Mr. Herrin. And Hamlet, he noted, “only has to do one show.”

From Time Out:

Still, as a fast-paced political thriller, it is fiendishly engaging, and director Jeremy Herrin’s 23-member corps skillfully slips in and out of multiple roles. Parker’s King Henry is finely modulated over the course of the plays, transforming from a hale-and-hearty young buck to a more corrupt and ruthless eater-up of friends. Lydia Leonard’s petulant, feline Anne Boleyn justifies both her rapid rise and fast fall. Paul Jesson jigs jovially among wily patriarchs: from a politic Cardinal Wolsey to future queen Jane Seymour’s pandering dad. As a character meant to fade into the background, Cromwell’s loyal clerk Rafe, Joshua Silver is ever-present, watchful, recording. And as Cromwell, Miles can make holding your tongue seem like high drama. As Mantel fills in the blanks of history, so Miles fills his character’s conflicted motives with intelligence and moral purpose, however ugly they get.

Together these marvelous actors create a little England populating Christopher Oram’s grimly gray set, a blank slate that swiftly becomes a cardinal’s office, Henry’s court, the Thames or a tavern. Always looming against the back wall are four concrete square slabs, not quite touching edges. In the negative space their sides create, we see a constant cross. It’s an eloquent metaphor for this world: grace, pity, peace, God—all exist as potentials in the cracks of a stony, material world.

From Entertainment Weekly:
First things first: the stage adaptation of Wolf Hall is a long one. Those daring enough to sit through Parts One and Two in a single day–a Broadway binge, if you will–can look forward to spending six hours nestled in the Winter Garden Theatre. The good news: it’s worth every minute. Imported from London, where the plays were a smash, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s outstanding production does justice to the revered Hilary Mantel novels (which include the sequel Bring Up the Bodies) while also offering its own intriguing spin on the oft-retold historical drama.

That would be the story of Thomas Cromwell (Ben Miles), the 16th century political fixer and the kind of antihero that modern audiences have come to love: a savvy everyman who–through craft and cunning–escaped his ignoble background and became the most trusted advisor to King Henry VIII (Nathaniel Parker). His skills were key in allowing Henry to divorce his first wife Katherine of Aragon (Lucy Briers) and marry the ambitious Anne Boleyn (Lydia Leonard)—thus breaking England from the Church in Rome. Part One focuses on exactly how Cromwell did it, while Part Two shows us how he undid it. As he himself says, “Times have changed—our requirements have changed—and the facts must change behind us.” That serves as both Cromwell’s job description and the play’s synopsis.
I was blown away by the play. I’m going to have to add this to my list of the great things I’ve seen on Broadway. I will add that near the end of the play there is a very revealing line (to me at least) as to Cromwell’s motivation and reason for all that he’s done. It certainly gave me something to think about the spectacular that I’d just seen on stage. It’s something I’m going to keep in mind as I start reading the books.

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