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Theatre Review A crowning achievement

PAUL DONOVAN recommends a great production of an immaculate adaptation, delivered with tremendous power by an excellent cast

The Mirror and the Light
Gielgud Theatre

THIS production of the Mirror and the Light represents a brilliant final part of the trilogy of plays tracking the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell.

It has been a while in arriving, coming seven years, after the dramatisation of the first two books Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies.

This time the star of those plays, Ben Miles plus director Jeremy Herrin, have collaborated with writer Hilary Mantel to bring this production to the stage.

Miles and Mantel have done a fine job, producing a screenplay that reduces down the 883-page book to a tight narrative.

The Mirror and the Light brings the Cromwell period to a close, while seeking to tie up some of the loose ends of the first two books.

Notably, Miles and Mantel continue to include a lot of humour in the production, a clear difference to the TV depictions.

Nathaniel Parkinson, as King Henry, is excellent as the avuncular monarch, at times, leading the court in merriment, but who can change in an instant to a troubled, violent despot, dispatching people at will.

The rising in the north, the Pilgrammage of Grace, is put down brutally, after inital indications of concessions.

At the time, Cromwell is noted by the King to be the most unpopular person in the realm — interesting, given the play was in production, when Dominic Cummings was fulfilling a similar modern-day role.

Miles, as Cromwell, holds the whole thing together, with his powerful performance.

A man troubled by the past, with the ghost of his father Walter (Liam Smith) making thuggish appearances.

The ghost of Cardinal Wolsey (Tony Turner) makes for lighter contributions: “Dominus vobiscum — just passing through.”

Class is never far from the surface, with the nobles constantly resentful that Cromwell, the son of a blacksmith and Wolsey, the son of a butcher, should have risen to the highest office.

This excellent production was illuminated by numerous outstanding performances, such as Melissa Allen as Mary Tudor and Nick Woodeson, as the diminuitive but constantly aggressive Duke of Norfolk.

The booming Duke of Suffolk (Nicholas Boulton) is a constant presence.

There is quite a lot of doubling up on characters, with Matthew Pidgeon particularly outstanding as both the debonair Spanish ambassador Eustache Chapuys and the bitter and threatening Bishop of Winchester, Stephen Gardiner.

One that doesn’t work so well is having the same actor, Olivia Marcus, playing Queens Jane Seymour and Katherine Howard.

The depiction if the two characters is similar, yet history suggests they were very different — almost opposites. Though, maybe a subtler point is being made!

Overall, this is a splendid final part of the trilogy of plays. A great adaptation, brought to life by some extraordinary performances. High marks for Miles, Mantel, Herrin and all the cast.

The question for Mantel is, what now after Cromwell?

Plays until November 28 2022. Box office: 01789 331-111/ 0844 482-5130 or tickets@rsc.org.uk.

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