Thomas Cromwell is, in the words of Shakespeare, an ‘upstart crow’, once a mere blacksmith boy from Putney catapulted to the royal cabinet through his longstanding ingenuity with money, familiarity with continental politics, and instinctive understanding of the age-old need for control. Cromwell’s upward mobility in the court infuriates myriad noblemen around him, particularly the reprehensible Duke of Norfolk who is determined to upend Cromwell’s trajectory.
Company of The Mirror and the Light. Photo: Marc Brenner
So, who better to adapt Mantel’s soaring novel than Mantel herself? Known for her deft wit and truisms on the nature of power, here on stage she does not leave us wanting. The last two stage adaptations of her prize-winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies were dramatised by Mike Poulton, who although was Tony nominated for these adaptations, had a more stodgy, sombre approach to Cromwell’s story. In this third instalment, Mantel has taken the reins, adding verve, flair and a simple directness that at times stuns both the characters and the audience. Who knew Tutor England could be so contemporary?
It is quite the feat to distil 875 pages into a taut, dynamic stage play (albeit at 2 hours and 35 minutes), but Mantel has conquered this predicament with her signature cutting wit. Her co-writer is actor Ben Miles, who just so happens to play protagonist Thomas Cromwell, in the last years of his life before Henry decides his most faithful and lucrative servant of the realm would be better off headless.
The quiet yet virtuoso director Jeremy Herrin supports the production all the way through, never getting in the way of Mantel’s vision. Herrin has curated a knock-out ensemble and utilises colour-blind casting to terrific effect. This of course should be the norm, especially in historical dramas.
Rosanna Adams as Anna of Cleves in The Mirror and the Light. Photo: Christopher Oram
Ben Miles offers an authentic, playful and moving portrayal of Cromwell, a man whose fortune turns as each scene passes. An outstanding performance comes from Nathaniel Parker as Henry VIII, morphing in one moment from a childish toddler with a vicious streak to a genuinely charming, whip-smart leader who puts meaning into the word benevolent.
The only criticism (and it is minuscule) is that there are one too many dance scenes which add little to the story or ambience. There is a slightly cringe-inducing scene where courtly guests wear ghoulish animal heads to demonstrate the court turning against Cromwell, haunting his dreams, but one can ignore this as it is momentary and does not hinder the plot.
If you love historical dramas, go see The Mirror and The Light. If you hate historical dramas, go see The Mirror and The Light. You won’t be disappointed.
The Mirror and the Light is showing at the West End’s Gielgud Theatre. Tickets are now on sale. Click here to book.
|What||Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light, Gielgud Theatre review|
|Where||Gielgud Theatre, 35 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, W1D 6AR | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
23 Sep 21 – 28 Nov 21, Performances at 19:30pm with additional 2:30pm matinees
|Price||£15 - £161|
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|