Gielgud theatre, London
The climactic play based on Hilary Mantel’s magisterial trilogy has wit and grace but no great dramatic release

It’s a truism all too well known to Thomas Cromwell that history is written by the victors. By the final volume in Hilary Mantel’s magisterial trilogy, Cromwell is on his way out, yet the dark magic of Mantel’s pen is such that the blacksmith’s boy from Putney has dominated the cultural landscape of the early 21st century – on page, stage and television – for almost as long as he did the political one of the 16th.

But all good things come to an end, and the evidence of this third and final play is that the spell is broken. We know that Cromwell’s failure to broker a successful fourth marriage for Henry, to Anna of Cleves, will lead to his execution. But this biographical inevitability sucks the life out of the project, returning the Tudor court to a parade of stuffed doublets. There are seven of them on stage within minutes of the curtain rising on Jeremy Herrin’s production, and it took most of the first half to work out which was which.

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