PATRICK MARMION REVIEWS: Chop chop! Henry's back

PATRICK MARMION REVIEWS: Chop chop! Henry’s back… and not a moment too soon

The Mirror and the Light

Gielgud Theatre, London

Rating:

And so the final part of the Cromwell-Henry VIII saga by Hilary Mantel reaches its deadly climax. It seems an eternity since we first saw Ben Miles and Nathaniel Parker assume the respective roles in 2014.

Since then both have been touched by Old Father Time – perhaps sparing them a trip to hair and make-up for their now more grizzled characters.

Previously in Wolf Hall (as they say on the telly) we saw Cromwell rise from Putney ruffian to court fixer, dispensing with the inconveniences of St Thomas More and those of Henry’s wives who failed to provide a male heir.

And so the final part of the Cromwell-Henry VIII saga by Hilary Mantel reaches its deadly climax. It seems an eternity since we first saw Ben Miles and Nathaniel Parker assume the respective roles in 2014

Now we find Cromwell condemned to death in the Tower of London, haunted by the ghost of his former mentor Cardinal Wolsey and mocked by the hostile spectre of his father.

Looking back from his cell, it was all going so well. Henry was happily married to Jane Seymour, who bore him a son and heir – only for her to die in the process.

So, with Henry in need of a new wife, Cromwell comes up with the brilliant ruse of…Anne of Cleves – a fellow Protestant who has the added bonus of packing a nice little trade deal. But that all goes spectacularly wrong when Henry, we are told, finds himself repulsed by his bride-to-be.

Inevitably, Miles and Mantel’s script give us spectacle instead of the book’s intimate access to Cromwell’s thoughts. But Miles remains superb – urbane, resourceful and stoical. He has huge gravitas and steely charisma too.

Since last we saw him he’s turned into a hobbling, bearded, hair-trigger super-brat who is flattered by Cromwell that he is ‘the mirror and the light of all kings in Christendom’

And yet he never seems like a man fighting for his life. He’s more like a man flying by the seat of his Tudor pants. Almost resigned to his fate, there’s a lovely moment at the end of one tense scene when he blows his cheeks out as if to say: ‘Phew!’

Instead, this time it’s Parker’s Henry who runs the show. Since last we saw him he’s turned into a hobbling, bearded, hair-trigger super-brat who is flattered by Cromwell that he is ‘the mirror and the light of all kings in Christendom’.

To Olivia Marcus’s wry Jane Seymour he is a hungry lover, while to Rosanna Adams’s nervier ‘Anna’ of Cleves he is an impotent ‘angry old bear’.

With respect to both queens, he whimpers about his need for love and lapses into self-pity. There are many other nice sketches in a packed 160 minutes.

Nicholas Woodeson is impeccably cold as Cromwell’s Hobbit-like nemesis Thomas Howard.

Leo Wan, as Richard Riche, is an oleaginous, Cromwell-lite conspirator. And Nicholas Boulton’s Duke of Suffolk is ingratiatingly coarse, buddying up to Henry in his peekaboo codpiece. Jeremy Herrin’s production is impressively taut too, retaining Christopher Oram’s stark concrete design which serves as church and dungeon – with hidden nooks and crannies for eavesdropping at court.

And although the outline of the scaffold looming overhead never lets us forget the executioner awaiting Cromwell, there is some welcome light relief thanks to Mantel’s sardonic wit and a bit of squawking period dance music.

Maybe this final part misses the momentum of the first two, propelling us to a fateful finale. Seven years is, after all, too long an interval. But it’s been worth the wait. 

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