Review: Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, adapted by Mike Poulton, Gallery Players, Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich, until March 30

Thomas Cromwell (Steve Taplin) tries to mollify Anne Boleyn (Charlotte Curtis) in Gallery Players' p

Thomas Cromwell (Steve Taplin) tries to mollify Anne Boleyn (Charlotte Curtis) in Gallery Players' production of the RSC's adaptation of Wolf Hall. Photo: Will Dowe - Credit: Archant

I haven’t read Mantel’s book or seen the TV series, so I always had a perception of Thomas Cromwell as a slimy back stabber, whose most recent claim to fame as an ancestor of Danny Dyer had all but eclipsed his other notoriety in my eyes.

Thomas Cromwell (Steve Taplin) with his mentor Cardinal Wolsey (Phil Cory) in Gallery Players' produ

Thomas Cromwell (Steve Taplin) with his mentor Cardinal Wolsey (Phil Cory) in Gallery Players' production of the RSC's adaptation of Wolf Hall. Photo: Will Dowe - Credit: Archant

But this production, of the RSC adaptation of Wolf Hall, presents him as quite a dynamic and charismatic proposition and Thomas Wolsey as a figure of real fascination. This is, in part, due to the relationship between the characters: a butcher’s boy and blacksmith’s son. That two men from these backgrounds could rise, as they did, is utterly extraordinary and makes their fall symbolically poignant. Never has getting above your station been so high stakes and remains at the centre of play throughout.

It is a man’s world that the story portrays, yet the women are central to intrigue.

Both Catherine of Aragon (Lorena Cenci) and Anne Boleyn (Charlotte Curtis) are strongly portrayed as powerful characters whose ambitions equal those of the men. Indeed, King Henry VIII (Michael Cook) blusters, blowing hot and cold, as we feel his desperation and ego swell and look on as the man starts to become a monster.

The traverse staging really does complement this production. Sometimes it can feel a bit static, but here we almost become silent members of the intrigue of court ourselves. And as the characters line up there is a real sense of hierarchy that is compelling.


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Steve Taplin as Thomas Cromwell is very strong and creates a humane and powerful characterisation. As Thomas Wolsey, Phil Cory achieves a performance that balances the larger than life outrageous aspects of the character with the ruthless and pitiful moments with real skill.

With a highly satisfactory quota of quips about Ipswich, this production is well paced and completely absorbing.

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