The inaugural drama production in the newly refurbished Rogers Theatre was Wolf Hall, a stage adaptation of the Booker Prize-winning novel by Hilary Mantel. Director of Drama, Keith Packham, in choosing this production, made Malvern College the first school ever to mount this Mike Poulton/Royal Shakespeare Company stage adaptation of the play.
The play focuses on Thomas Cromwell and the Tudor Court. We see the downfall of Cardinal Wolsey and Cromwell’s rise to power over the period of time when Henry VIII is in the process of attempting to divorce his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, through to his marriage to Anne Boleyn and the birth of Elizabeth. The audience was treated to a darkly comic play which was staged professionally, and executed superbly by this young cast of dramatists that was drawn from all years at the College.
The production values were outstanding and a real testament to the creative team of Harriet Hook (Sound), Steve Doidge (Lighting), Leanne Hollyhead (Choreography) and Heather Fryer (Costume). A minimalist stage set was augmented by sumptuous Tudor period costumes which brought the historical characters to vivid life.
The production positively zipped along, moving from one historical incident to another with dramatic urgency. In order to keep an impressive pace, the director kept Cromwell on stage throughout successive events, he was joined, in waves, by the latest players in the course of the play and thus the performance energy and audience interest never dropped. Musical interjections at pertinent points in the narrative created an imaginative soundscape, whilst a menacing drone-like underscore enhanced the mood and created a sense of foreboding.
Bonnie Green played the scheming Thomas Cromwell, son of a blacksmith who rises to become right-hand man to King Henry VIII. Cromwell gets a huge amount of time on stage, and Bonnie’s portrayal was first class, displaying an authoritative air as the character mixes with the elite royal courtiers, at the same time superbly conveying Cromwell’s manipulative undercurrents.
Ariana Davison as Cardinal Wolsey wonderfully captured the divergent public and private faces of the role, as Wolsey subsequently fell from grace and power. Ellen Berry’s sullen Stephen Gardiner usurped in importance by Cromwell, amusingly portrayed the rancor between the characters bidding for power and influence. Harrison Hudson as Thomas More excellently captured Mantel’s version of the character, employing a sneering tone of voice and sinister obsessive religious characteristics to tremendous effect.
Lucie Fletcher as a tempestuous Henry VIII wonderfully conveyed a king who was easily manipulated and wished only to obtain his desires; a king riddled with doubt, guilt and frustration at his personal predicaments. Her portrayal of the common historical perception of Henry, was mitigated by glimpses of vulnerability and uncertainty which was most touching. The King’s verbal ‘jousting’ with Katherine of Aragon (a defiant and stoical performance from Liv Hyde) was a memorable scene, as was the scene where the King’s nightmare vision of his dead brother Arthur, is interpreted by Cromwell.
Anne Boleyn played by Otty Wyatt and her more sullen undertones mixed with mercurial temperament contrasted nicely with Missy Hingley’s playful Mary Boleyn.
Excessive charm and wit were mixed with flashes of anger, which ultimately gave way to moments of determination mixed with a savage desire to destroy her enemies. The Boleyn family (father Thomas – Bea Barnes, son George – Jonny Mather, daughter-in-law Lady Jane – Lottie Bulley) showed a great level of ensemble acting, as their scenes illustrated a somewhat dysfunctional family to comedic effect. Beatrice Forbes as Rafe Sadler, Jasmine Ellis as Christophe, Eve Leslie as Gregory and Syuzannah Avanesova as Liz successfully portrayed Cromwell’s family and warm home life.
Dukes Norfolk (Laura Browne) and Suffolk (Lexie Clarke) captured their roles as powerful henchmen to the King with humour, whilst Oli Doherty as lute-playing obsessive Mark Smeaton, Jack Yeoward (Harry Percy), Otty Thomas (Jane Seymour), Lara Davidson (Mary), Morgann Mcgee (Wyatt), Ani King (Archbishop Cranmer), George Advani (Warham), Toon De Melker (Eustace Chapuys), Oliver Beer (Norris), Nicholas Wilson (Weston), Harry Graydon (Brereton), Gia Neath and Ella Cooper as servants/ambassadors played their supporting roles with excellent focus, dedication and commitment.
This was a thoughtful and meticulously delivered production of Wolf Hall with outstanding acting performances, a shimmering array of costumes, impressive design elements, and a crystal-clear exposition of a challenging play steeped in historical references.
The cast of 13-18-year-old pupils executed this play to such a professional level that it augurs well for the future of Drama at Malvern College in its newly refurbished surroundings