Ben Miles as Thomas Cromwell and John Ramm as Thomas More in Wolf Hall. Official produciton photo by Keith Pattison
I'm going to premise this by saying I haven't read the book but I studied 16th century English and European history at A-level which probably explains why I was surprised by the RSC's Wolf Hall. Surprised, and this is going to sound a tad ridiculous, because it not only brought history to life but it gave it personality.
OK so there is good pinch of dramatic license added to the mix, it is a play based on fictional novel after all, but I never expected the protagonist of the piece Thomas Cromwell (Ben Miles) to have quite so much charisma and charm. Indeed it chocker full of colourful characters - if only studying this period of history could have been this much fun. It is this which I think makes Wolf Hall such a success - its run in London is pretty much sold out after a successful debut in Stratford.
It has a partner piece, a sequel if you will, Bring Up The Bodies (which I'm seeing in just over a week) and follows the rise of commoner Thomas Cromwell from clerk, friend and confidante of Cardinal Wolsey to Henry VIII's Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Cromwell is a master politician, a clever lawyer and a former mercenary which makes him sound machiavellian but he is loyal and a good-hearted family man whose skill is in negotiation. He gets a reputation as a fixer, someone who sorts things out. In trying to get Cardinal Wolsey back into favour he gets noticed by the King; Cromwell, unlike others in the court, is not scared to challenge or question but he does it with charm and good humour which Henry seems to respect.