This tense political drama is a tour de force for the RSC. The Tudor court, wolfis and predatory world where the protagonists play for the highest stakes. Into this world, so true to Hilary Mantel’s creation, we witness Ben Miles’s Cromwell, still and watchful. As the play develops we see him warily circling the dangerous and capricious characters that occupy the highest in the realm and whose trust and support he must win.
It is unfair to dwell too long on individual performances as this is a production in which the whole ensemble contribute to an utterly convincing creation of a world turned upside down as the king wrestles with the consequences of divorce and a break with Rome. The ensuing uncertainty is palpable as the court struggles to make sense of a world where old loyalties dissolve and new hazards, and opportunities, arise.
The sets are skilfully pared down and contrast with the opulence of the courtiers’ dress serves as a visual metaphor for the splendour and harshness of this world. A further contrast between the lavish dress of the court and it’s disdain for Cromwell in his monochrome attire points up a major theme of the play.