Rating: 2/5 stars
Will it ever end? Why are there not more dead bodies? These are the things I asked myself during parts one and two of this play. Yes, you read that right, there are two parts to this play. Each 2 hrs and 45 min long (YIKES) and you can choose to watch them in succession (if you're a masochist) or you can spread them out. They recommend you watch them in order but it's not required. And yes, each ticket costs the same as a Broadway ticket so you're paying to see two shows. I initially thought this was a terrible idea and was going to skip it, but it got great reviews and was nominated for 8 Tony awards...oh how I wished I had listened to my instincts.
I attended part one on May 6th and part two on June 3rd, which probably isn't recommended, but it was difficult to schedule since the cast still only had 8 shows a week that were split between part one and part two. The two plays are based on the two books by Hilary Mantel which I haven't read. I have heard good things about the books however. The story is set in England 1527 where King Henry VIII is married to Katherine but is freaking out because he doesn't have a male heir. We see everything through Thomas Cromwell (the very talented Ben Miles), a lowlife who works his way up into the King's favor. The viewpoint from Thomas is different, but the story is basically the same. Henry divorces Katherine which is a big no-no, marries Anne Boleyn, she can't give him a male heir either, Anne gets accused of sleeping with many men including her brother, she gets killed so Henry can then marry Jane Seymour. If you've seen The Other Boleyn Girl then you saw a more interesting version of these same events.
So for me, the story and the pacing just didn't work. For a plot that I knew pretty well (and I think most people do) there wasn't anything new or interesting. Also they included so many scenes and conversations that just flat-lined the plot. I felt like I was watching this story happen in real time. And I get that there were two books, but there was absolutely no need to turn them into two separate plays. I read a review where someone compared this play to Game of Thrones and I think either that person has never watched Game of Thrones or they saw a completely different play than I did. Game of Thrones, which I LOVE and have read, has a constant shifting of power and you can never predict what is going to happen next. There's a surprising death almost every episode it seems. With Wolf Hall, it was just Thomas and Henry running the show and they killed off whoever was angering Henry at the moment. There was zero suspense. And there weren't really any characters that you cared about or were invested in. House of Cards is able to do that even with evil main characters, but Wolf Hall couldn't really pull it off.
What I did enjoy however, was the acting, directing, set, and costumes. The cast is from The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in London and they are all incredibly talented. Three of the actors were nominated for Tony awards this year (but didn't win). It must be very hard to do a play this dense and dark as well as learn lines for two separate plays and perform them at the same time. The direction really stood out for me (directed by Jeremy Herrin, also nominated). They had a lot of very quick-changing scenes where instead of going offstage the actors were able to switch the direction they were walking with a sound and lighting cue and immediately be in a new scene. Hard to explain but looked really cool. And for a set that mostly didn't change, you were able to tell where they were at any time. The stage actually came to a sharp point down front with steps for the actors to come and go. Also there was this really cool cube thing hanging from the ceiling (just go look at pictures!). The costumes were amazing but that time period also helps. They did win one Tony award for costumes!
So if this show wasn't so beautifully crafted and acted I would have given it an even lower rating. It felt like pulling teeth to sit in that theater for almost 6 hours (that I will never get back...). It obviously wasn't my cup of tea but it was for many others.
Who should see this show:
- If for some reason you love the King Henry VIII story
- If you like more serious and dense plays
- If you want to see a RSC production
How to get tickets:
- $49.75 rear Orchestra: https://www.telecharge.com/Broadway/Wolf-Hall-Parts-One-and-Two/Overview
- $39 on tdf.org
- $39 general rush tickets on day of performance
- They give bigger discounts if you buy parts one and two together through telecharge