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Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies in London

Stage adaptions of Hilary Mantel's Booker-winning novels

by Bernadette Fallon

Let me state my prejudice. I love the book ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel. It was a worthy Man Booker winner in 2009 and I was beside myself with excitement when I heard she was writing a sequel. This was ‘Bring Up the Bodies’; published in 2012, it scooped her another Booker that year. The books follow the life of Thomas Cromwell through the court of Henry VIII, from the final days of marriage with Catherine of Aragon to the beheading of Anne Boleyn.

But this is no courtly epic. It’s a beautifully crafted, often poetic, sometimes humorous, always engaging look inside the mind of Cromwell and the orchestrations he performs to stay one step ahead in the brutal world of 16th century Britain. A place where a fall from favour could send you to the Tower and under the sword.

‘Cromwell’s public life is extensively documented, but his personal life is hardly on the record at all,’ writes Hilary Mantel. ‘ In Wolf Hall I am setting up  private world to run alongside the public world of the history record.’

There was more excitement when I heard that the books were to become plays, adapted by Mike Poulton and performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company. It was impossible to get tickets for the opening run in Stratford last year. But I finally managed it when the production opened in London this month. Though I did worry, heading down to the Aldwych Theatre, about the wisdom of seeing a new interpretation of something I loved so much. Could it live up to the expectation?

Yes. In fact it could. And while the pace of the intensely gripping first half flagged a bit in part two – the play runs from 7.30 to 10.30 with a 20-minute interval after all – it still packed a powerful punch. It retains all of the book’s poetry and actually increases the comedy value, because a line that makes you smile on the page, raises a laugh when acted aloud. Both the humour and the pathos is beautifully paced, well delivered and perfectly timed.

Through it all, Cromwell’s intelligence, his adept political manipulations, his kindness, his deviousness – the intriguing mix of a larger-than-life character – shines through. The work rises powerfully from the page and makes the seemingly effortless transition to the stage. What looks easy can only have been achieved through months of hard work from a dedicated team; from the writer to the director Jeremy Herrin to crew and cast, most notably Ben Miles as Cromwell, Paul Jesson as Cardinal Wolsey and Nathaniel Parker as Henry VIII.

If you’ve read the books, you’ll love the plays and if you haven’t read them, they’ll make the sometimes-difficult text more palatable. Because these books deserve to be read for their fascinating interpretation of a pivotal point in English history. And these plays deserve to be seen.

Because in a strange way, they have taken Hilary Mantel back to the story ‘before it was words’, she says. ‘Back to when it was a shifting pattern like a movement of dancers in a line.’

Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies run at Aldwych Theatre until September 6 2014; best ticket availability in July and August. Seats are available to purchase in person at the box office from 10.30am on the day of performance, the theatre is located at 49 Aldwych, off the Strand, London WC2B 4DF . For more information and booking visit or phone 0844 453 9025


*Photo shows L-R Ben Miles, Lydia Leonard, Lucy Briers, Oscar Pearce and Nathaniel Parker in Wolf Hall. Photo by Keith Pattison

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Alice  Jones

Alice Jones

Alice Jones is intern on All About You; she has an obsession for all things fashion and beauty related.

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Carla  Griscti

Carla Griscti

Editorial assistant on allaboutyou; Music lover, travel bee and food fanatic.

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Emma Marsden

Emma Marsden

Food consultant of All About You, loves creating something out of nothing and decluttering.

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Nola  Ojomu

Nola Ojomu

Freelance contributor to All About You. Mission - to have the perfect eyebrows

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Harriet  Edgar

Harriet Edgar

All About You intern; likes fashion, jogging, blogging and EastEnders

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Bernadette  Fallon

Bernadette Fallon

Editor of All About You; an online journalist with a fetish for glossy magazines.

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Adrienne  Wyper

Adrienne Wyper

Deputy editor of All About You. I love cycling, cooking and creating

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Carol  Muskoron

Carol Muskoron

Associate editor of All About You, loves life (mostly) and one-pan recipes (always).

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Rachael  Ashley

Rachael Ashley

SHE's deputy editor and single mum of two embodies the SHE motto 'Busy and loving it!'

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Kate Gilbert

Kate Gilbert

Lifestyle Co-ordinator Good Housekeeping; believes in style,substance and big girl shoes.

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Marie  Campbell

Marie Campbell

Marie Campbell is assistant to the editor at SHE and also writes for the lifestyle pages.

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Natalie  Glock

Natalie Glock

Editorial assistant on All About You; a Parisian in training and amateur baker.

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Ruth  Chandler

Ruth Chandler

Assistant features editor on Country Living, Ruth lives on a smallholding in rural Essex.

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Julia  Goodwin

Julia Goodwin

Editor of House Beautiful since 2006, Julia has been a journalist for over 30 years.

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Josa Young

Josa Young

Josa Young is a writer, cook and internet content consultant.

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