Well that was a bit of a disappoinment.
When we saw the first two parts of the trilogy at the RSC a few years ago we thought here was some real theatrical magic. The thrust staging brought the action close to the audience and the intimacy heightened the sense of tension and 'conspiracy'. The angles were used superbly to switch between scenes and even seasons in a flash and somehow the adapter Mike Poulton managed to encapsulate all that was good in the first two books, 'Wolf Hall' and 'Bring Up the Bodies'. So we went to the Gielgud Theatre on opening night full of anticipation.
What happened? Well, firstly the proscenium arch setting changed the whole nature of the piece. What had been intimate became declamatory. Angles were flattened and at times there were even (gasp) some straight lines. So a good deal of the silence and subtlety was lost.
Next, the adaptation was really poor. Yes I know Hilary Mantel did it herself (with Ben Miles who is good as Cromwell but I always think of him as a bit more of a bruiser) but for some reason it totally lost the suspense, the dread and the intrigue of the book. By starting the play with Cromwell already in the Tower, any narrative tension was lost (even if you know how it turns out). In the novel there were moments of brilliance, such as when Cromwell hears that Call-Me Wriothesley has been seen at a gathering held by Gardiner, when you can almost feel the sinking alarm in the pit of your stomach. None of that here. In fact there was a scene showing the plotting of Norfolk, Rich, Gardiner and Wriothesley which could never have happened in the book as it was all in the third person historic tense i.e. you only heard and saw what Cromwell heard and saw which heightened the sense of foreboding and claustrophobia. And my other favourite bit when Henry reminisces fondly about a trip he and Cromwell (never) made to Kent was gone.
It was the opening night and lines were shaky. Very shaky. That will of course improve.
And here is one for all our Best students (and most of you know this is my pet hate) - don't 'travel' on stage. Strength on stage comes from stillness. So when King Henry VIII is shuffling around he loses all his presence. He got better as the show went on but he's supposed to be an awesome presence.
Finally, the whole thing just seemed underpowered. Unenergised. Missing a spark. They even chucked in a couple of pointless dances which added nothing and then went, totally out of the blue and completely out of keeping with the rest of the show, for a Byte-style bit of physical theatre.
The audience reaction was muted too so I don't think we were the only ones feeling a little underwhelmed. What a shame!
So all in all, very very disappointing, especially for our first play back in the West End after the brilliant Seven Streams of the River Ota in March last year.