Phil and I went into New York City recently, to attend an event at the world-famous Players' Club on Gramercy Park. The Shakespeare Society, which we have joined recently, hosted an attractive and unusual program. Actors who were currently appearing in "Wolf Hall" at the Winter Garden Theater in New York used their night off from performing to participate in this program. Selected actors from that show performed as readings several scenes from "The History of King Henry VIII," also known as "All Is True." There was a subsequent discussion, moderated by Michaelf Sexton, President of the Shakespeare Society, of how the two plays overlap, comparing Shakespeare's treatment with the fall of Cardinal Wolsey to that of Hilary Mantel, etc.
I say "Shakespeare" a little inaccurately. Scholars are pretty sure that Shakespeare contributed heavily to this play, perhaps as a "guest artist" or script doctor. In fact, whenever something is really good in this play, it's attributed to him. When it is heavy-going and inferior, everyone says, "Oh, this must be the part Fletcher wrote." Now, this is a little hard on poor Fletcher. On the other hand, it's probably as accurate as any other way to sort out the collaboration.
Phil has several interesting ideas about the different ways the major characters were represented. He also has insights as to the kind of risks Shakespeare liked to take with historical subjects. For a change, I'm not going to steal Phil's insights, but, instead, refer to his blog, philipschaefer.com, also known as Pater Familias. He may not have written up this post yet, but I know he's planning to.
After the program, we went to the bar of the Players' Club, where the actors were congregating, and got to talk to some of the performers. I'm afraid I talked far too long with Nicholas Boulton who was sitting with his lovely fiancée and trying to enjoy his evening. He was very interested to hear about the effect of the PBS "Wolf Hall" on an American audience. (We had already heard that the Winter Garden was probably too big a hall to try to fill, and that's even before the PBS version of "Wolf Hall" aired.) I had to admit that I would have definitely come in to see both parts, "Wolf Hall" and "Bring Up the Bodies" if I had not seen the brilliant television version. The novels had been so internal, the inner monologue of Thomas Cromwell so essential to the books, I had been skeptical about any kind of dramatization of the novels. But television allows for a kind of internality that the stage, perhaps, doesn't. Mark Rylance's face, close-up on the tv screen, conveyed subtle feelings, complex ideas, without much language at all.
Meanwhile, Nicholas Boulton, with his incredible, thrilling voice, his 6'3" presence, was a powerful presence on the stage. You may have seen him. If you saw the film "Shakespeare in Love," he was Henry Condell, one of Shakespeare's actors. If you've been watching this season's "Game of Thrones," he played the Master of Ceremonies at the fighting pits! He deserved, of course, a much bigger role. Perhaps they'll have him back to do something more substantial. As it was, he was very patient and gracious to me, as I soaked up a good bit of time he could have enjoyed with his lovely companion.