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Review: Wolf Hall

April 10th, 2015 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

"Wolf Hall" (photo: Johan Persson via The Broadway Blog)

“Wolf Hall” (photo: Johan Persson via The Broadway Blog)

The 2014-2015 theatre season’s hot-button cultural event is the visiting Royal Shakespeare Company’s Wolf Hall, Parts One and Two, Mike Poulton’s admirable double-bill adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Man Booker Prize-winning novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Broadway audiences now have the chance to see this production, which premiered in London last year, one play at a time or in a same-day marathon. In a rare coincidence, they may also view the six-part TV version on PBS, starring Mark Rylance and Damian Lewis, which began broadcasting on April 5. I watched the first episode just after getting home from nearly six hours (separated by a two and a half-hour break) at the Winter Garden. Seeing both is illuminating.

"Wolf Hall" (photo: Johan Persson via The Broadway Blog.)

“Wolf Hall” (photo: Johan Persson via The Broadway Blog.)

Mantel’s door stoppers (together, over 1,000 pages) have been excoriated by major historians for their alleged distortions of characters and fact, and by Catholics for what they assert are her anti-Catholic views. Her books follow the familiar political, religious, and personal upheavals attendant upon the first three marriages—ranging from 1509 to 1536—of King Henry VIII. (The next three marriages presumably are covered in the final volume of Mantel’s planned trilogy.)

This richly fascinating material has, over the years, spawned an entire genre of novels, plays, and movies focusing on various personages, especially King Henry, Katherine of Aragon, Sir Thomas More, Sir Thomas Cromwell, Cardinal Wolsey, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, and, of course, Queen Elizabeth I, the child born to Henry and Anne. In Mantel’s work, Cromwell is the principal figure.

An old rhyme goes:
King Henry the Eighth,
to six wives he was wedded.
One died, one survived,
two divorced, two beheaded.

Leah Brotherhead in "Wolf Hall" (photo: Johan Persson via The Broadway Blog.)

Leah Brotherhead in “Wolf Hall” (photo: Johan Persson via The Broadway Blog.)

Divorce, in fact, was not an option, the proper procedure being annulment, which is what Henry (Nathaniel Parker), claiming the crucial importance of having a male heir, seeks from Katherine (Lucy Briers). After two and a half decades, she’s borne him only a daughter, Princess Mary (Leah Brotherhead), the heiress presumptive to a throne hitherto held only by males. Henry, hoping to get rid of Katherine and marry Anne Boleyn (Lydia Leonard), needs the pope’s approval, England then being Catholic; when Cardinal Wolsey (Paul Jesson), the Lord Chancellor, is unable to convince Rome to grant the king’s wish, he loses his high position, dying soon afterward. Sir Thomas More (John Ramm) becomes the new Lord Chancellor, but soon enough, More, unwilling to support the annulment (which foreshadowed the separation between England and the Catholic Church), meets his own fateful end.

Unlike Robert Bolt’s depiction of More in A Man for All Seasons as a noble martyr (he was canonized in 1935) who refuses to compromise his faith for the sake of the king’s personal wishes, Wolf Hall’s More is an unpleasant religious zealot who persecutes Protestants. Cromwell (Ben Miles), ordered to change More’s mind, is usually considered a master Machiavellian manipulator. Historian Simon Schama describes Cromwell as “a detestably self-serving, bullying monster who perfected state terror in England, cooked the evidence, and extracted confessions by torture.” Here, though, he’s the unlikely hero, forced by circumstances to behave nastily in order to serve the king’s interests, if not his own ambitions. The ultimate realist, he has no truck with ideological preconceptions; he’s religious but anti-extremist, heretically supporting an English-language Bible and noting that the Bible never mentions monks, nuns, and popes. Beginning as the right hand man of Wolsey, he gradually ascends in wealth and power (despite his lowly origins as a blacksmith’s son), successfully handles the annulment from Katherine, arranges for Anne’s beheading, and is instrumental in setting up the king’s relationship with Jane.

Read more…

Discount! Rush Tickets Now Available for “Wolf Hall”

March 24th, 2015 Comments off
"Wolf Hall" (photo: Johan Persson via The Broadway Blog.)

“Wolf Hall” (photo: Johan Persson via The Broadway Blog.)

The Broadway transfer of The Royal Shakespeare Company’s Wolf Hall: Parts 1 & 2 announced that a same day general rush will be available at the box office of the Winter Garden Theatre (1634 Broadway, between 50th and 51st Streets). Tickets will be available for $49 each, with a limit of two (2) tickets per person.

The box office is open on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Monday through Saturday from 10 a.mm to 8:30 p.m.

A limited number of student tickets will also be available for each performance for $27 per part, and will be available online at www.Tix4Students.com.

Wolf Hall: Parts 1 & 2, which explores the deceit, betrayal, and intrigue of the court of Henry VIII, is written by Dame Hilary Mantel and adapted by Mike Poulton. This special event invites theatergoers to be part of a unique theatrical experience, similar to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s award winning production of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby.

Wolf Hall: Parts 1 & 2 features a company of more than twenty actors, headed by Ben Milesas Thomas Cromwell, Lydia Leonard as Anne Boleyn, and Nathaniel Parker as King Henry VIII, all under the direction of Olivier Award nominee Jeremy Herrin, who makes his New York City directing début.

Don’t Miss: RSC’s Wolf Hall

March 3rd, 2015 Comments off

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"Wolf Hall, Part 2: Bring Up the Bodies" (photo: Johan Persson via The Broadway Blog.)

“Wolf Hall, Part 2: Bring Up the Bodies” (photo: Johan Persson via The Broadway Blog.)

It seems like only yesterday (well… 15 years ago) that CATS played its last epic performance at the Winter Garden Theatre. Sure, there have been other tenants like Mamma Mia! and the short-lived, sucker punch of a musical, ROCKY. But the last time the theater saw a legitimate play was the 1982 production of Othello, starring James Earl Jones, Christopher Plummer and Dianne Wiest. Good things come to those who wait.

Wolf Hall: Parts 1 & 2, the epic historical drama based on the best selling novels by Dame Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies) about the deceit, betrayal, and intrigue of the court of Henry VIII, arrives this spring. Adapted for the stage by Mike Poulton, this special event invites theatergoers to be part of a unique theatrical experience, similar to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s award winning production of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby.

"Wolf Hall" (photo: Johan Persson via The Broadway Blog.)

“Wolf Hall” (photo: Johan Persson via The Broadway Blog.)

Wolf Hall: Parts 1 & 2 features a company of more than twenty actors, headed by Ben Miles as Thomas Cromwell, Lydia Leonard as Anne Boleyn, and Nathaniel Parker as King Henry VIII, all under the direction of Olivier Award nominee Jeremy Herrin, who makes his New York City directing début.

For those willing to bunker down for both parts, package tickets are available, but if budget or limited brain capacity inhibit the full-throttle experience, producers have announced that patrons can also purchase each part of the theatrical event individually.

In addition, a limited number of student tickets will be available for $27 per part, and will be available online at www.Tix4Students.com.

Will Wolf Hall be as successful as last season repertory productions of Twelfth Night and Richard III? Time will tell…

 

Wolf Hall, Parts 1 & 2
Winter Garden Theatre
1634 Broadway
March 20 – July 5 in repertory.