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Review: Nick Payne's Incognito at the Bush Theatre

Review: RSC's Bring Up The Bodies or Thomas Cromwell part 2

Ben Miles as Thomas Cromwell. Photo by Keith Pattison

Found out just before seeing Bring Up the Bodies that it is not in fact a sequel to Wolf Hall but based on the middle book of what will be Hilary Mantel's trilogy telling the story of Thomas Cromwell. (Presumably the success of first two stage adaptations means a play of the third book is a certainty?)

So I was a bit premature in warning Poly that it probably wouldn't end well for Cromwell in this second play. The fact that there is a third book is a bit of plot spoiler for those unfamiliar with his story. But it does mean you get to enjoy Ben Miles as Cromwell while the going is good for a bit longer.

Bring Up The Bodies picks up where Wolf Hall leaves off. Cromwell has risen to high status in Henry VIII's court but Anne Boleyn, having failed to produce a male heir, is losing favour and the King already has his eye on Jane Seymour as Queen number three.

The narrative follows the demise of the Queen, the courtship of Jane and Cromwell's part in it all. I'm not sure how much historical fact fed into the trial of Anne Boleyn but it certainly leaves you with plenty to mull over in the 'did she or didn't she' debate.

In the same vein as Wolf Hall there is a lot of politics going on in the back ground but Cromwell remains at the heart of it all growing in wry charm, always managing to stay just one step ahead and all the more lovable for it. The success of the play is in the fact that I really started worrying for him. The jeopardy of those in the Tudor court is ever present from simple banishment to full on gruesome traitors death, I often wonder how anyone with a tongue in their head survived.

What makes Cromwell's position more precarious is that he comes from humble beginnings, a fact that he is reminded of consistently by the nobles. He is equally comfortable among his servants as he is with the nobility but it nearly gets him into trouble when he momentarily forgets the person he is addressing is actually the King.

Bring Up The Bodies has all the elements I enjoyed so much about Wolf Hall - the colourful characters, the down to earth Cromwell and fantastic costumes and it certainly didn't disappoint.

There is, however, something slightly unsatisfying by the way it ends but this is born purely out of knowing that the final chapter of his life is still in the hands of Hilary Mantel's pen. I was left wanting more and I only hope that Ben Miles gets to pick up where he left off although there is a tiny part of me that wants to leave him safely in favour and out of danger.

Bring Up The Bodies runs in rep with Wolf Hall at the Aldwych Theatre until Sept 6 and you can read my thoughts on Wolf Hall here.


See my Wolf Hall review.