Monday, 14 July 2014

Bring up the Bodies, at Aldwych theatre

I feel I can properly review Bring up the Bodies this time, as our seats were so much better, and I could actually see the stage.

Hilary Mantel's award-winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies have been adapted by the Royal Shakespeare Company and are currently on stage at Aldwych theatre. The novels chart the life of Thomas Cromwell, from his tutelage under Cardinal Wolsey, to his growing influence with Henry VII, to his role is orchestrating the fall of Anne Boleyn. Wolf Hall covers up to the death of Wolsey, and the marriage of Anne to Henry. Bring up the Bodies plots Cromwell's growing power, Anne's death and the King's new infatuation with Jane Seymour. 
Ben Miles as Thomas Cromwell (picture source)
After the absolute seat disaster when we saw Wolf Hall (seriously, don't book seats Grand, AA 3 & 4), we decided that we'd go see the second adaptation of Hillary Mantel's novels, Bring up the Bodies, and this time do it properly.  Our seats (Grand, Row B, 17 & 18) cost considerably more, just under £50, but we felt it was totally worth it. It even enhanced our earlier experience of Wolf Hall as there was references made to the first play, and little things I noticed, like Thomas Cromwell's (Ben Miles) Putney accent is subtler in Bring Up the Bodies, as he is even further from his humble origins, which I wouldn't have spotted if I hadn't been to both plays.

The staging of the play is minimalistic, beyond a few chairs and a table, there aren't many props. The back wall is divided into a cross, as one of the key subjects of the play is religious reform,England's break with Catholicism and the dissolution of the monasteries. Fire occasionally comes out of the floor in a doorway, to represent a hearth, and to show the scene is taking place inside, dappled light, like the sun through trees, is projected on the back wall for scenes in the garden. The costumes are of the period, and there are limited changes, Cromwell wears the same black velvet throughout both Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies.    
Nathaniel Parker as King Henry VII (picture source)
I really like the use of tableaux, a simple but affective way of changing scene or illustrating a point. For example at the end of the play, all those who died throughout the two plays are frozen in the background whilst Cromwell talks about them, he then joins them, showing both his involvement in their deaths and also foreshadowing his own.  

All the cast were of of high calibre, apart from I'm afraid Leah Brotherhead, who I'm afraid let the side down a bit. Her Jane Seymour didn't have enough guile, she didn't seem to be a worthy opponent to Anne. Yes, Jane was supposed to be 'milksop', a respite from Anne's quick temper, but I imagined Jane's niceness and gentleness just to be another form of manipulation. Brotherhead's Jane came across as slow-witted and her voice verged on the whiny. I feel a bit harsh now, I think it's because the other actors were so talented, that Brotherhead's weakness were just more apparent.

The stand out performer, for me, was Lucy Briers who played Katherine of Aragon and Jane Boleyn (Lady Rochford). Both characters were distinctly different. She managed to portray Katherine's dignity and resilience, and her jowls quivered with indignation. Ben Miles (Thomas Cromwell) was also very good.
(photo source)

My favourite scene was the when Thomas Cromwell goes to the tower to question William Brereton, Henry Norris, Francis Weston and George Boleyn after they are charged with adultery with the Queen. The four accused are seated in a semi-circle around Cromwell, as Cromwell questions them they are spotlighted and when the interviews are over they exist the stage. It was very well scripted, and the actors gave excellent performances, and become trapped and manipulated by Cromwell into turning on each other.

I could go on for hours, I was incredibly impressed by Bring Up the Bodies and would highly recommend you go see it if you get the chance. As far as I know, there are still tickets available. Our seats, Grand, Row B 17 & 18, were a good choice, and we had a superb view of the stage. We where in the back section, but second from the front. I think it is worth paying the extra £7 to be seated one row back from the front, as your view may be obscured by the lights and safety bar in the front row. I'm just under 5"7 and did feel a little cramped, but this is to be expected at an old theatre. If you're tall than me, you might want to consider sitting in row D of the Grand, as it has more leg room, but on the downside, there is another safety bar which might obscure your view.     

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