The Mirror and The Light

Hilary Mantel’s novel adapted by Hilary Mantel and Ben Miles
Royal Shakespeare Company
Gielgud Theatre

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Ben Miles Credit: Marc Brenner
Nathaniel Parker and Rosanna Adams Credit: Tristram Kenton
The Cast of The Mirror and The Light Credit: Marc Brenner

Hilary Mantel’s multi-awarding-winning Tudor novels—Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies and The Mirror and The Light—trace the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell and King Henry VIII’s efforts to find the right wife who will give him a male heir.

Thomas Cromwell (1485–1540), mercenary, banker, reformer and arch fixer, has appeared on stage in plays by Shakespeare (Henry VIII), Maxwell Anderson (Anne of the Thousand Days) and Robert Bolt (Vivat! Vivat Regina!). But this is the first time he has taken centre stage.

If you have seen the RSC’s productions of the first two novels, you will most certainly want to catch the final instalment.

Ben Miles and Nathaniel Parker repeat their roles of Cromwell and Henry. Jeremy Herrin directs.

History plays, with their court intrigues, sex, politics and who will be the next person to lose their head, have always been popular with theatregoers.

Cromwell, son of a blacksmith, born in Putney, was one of the most powerful men in Tudor England, holding many offices. He was Henry’s chief minister and closest advisor from 1532–1549. He was responsible for the legislation that made Henry head of the English church.

Shrewd, intelligent, cold and unemotional, he had many enemies at court. His life depended entirely on the King’s trust. Lose that trust and he loses his head. His downfall was brought about by his arranging the King’s marriage to Anne of Cleves. Henry found her physically repulsive.

Ben Miles is far more handsome than Holbein’s portrait of the real Cromwell and a much more sympathetic character than history has made out.

Nathaniel Parker’s Henry VIII, much younger than usual, is instantly likeable and he dominates the stage. Cromwell flatters Henry with the highest compliment: “Your majesty is the only prince. The mirror and the light of other kings.”

Jeremy Herrin’s fluid, fast-paced production is acted by a fine ensemble. Nicholas Woodeson stands out as the most stagy, vicious and obnoxious aristocrat who wants Cromwell hanged, drawn and quartered.

Reviewer: Robert Tanitch