The amount of media centred upon monarch Henry VIII and his own scandalous romantic history is never-ending; it is shoved down our throats every time the curvaceous King comes into question. It feels oddly refreshing, then, to watch a production centred not on this well-known figure, but on his closest advisor and right-hand man, Sir Thomas More. ‘A Man For All Seasons’ sees Thomas More’s unwavering scruples under fire as he is pressed to advocate Henry’s divorce and remarriage, compelled to choose between loyalty to the crown, and loyalty to his Faith.
An ambitious production, director Griff Rees has fused together Stanislavski and the workings of Brecht to create a very vivid, very seemingly natural adaption of the Tudor court. And by including such blatantly non-naturalist features, such as ‘the common man’ narrator, multi-rolling and a harmonious choir; Rees has avoided the confusion which can often come from a period piece. The interrupting narrator guides us through the play, through its intricate plot line and introducing historical characters to us so we can sit back and enjoy without feeling overwhelmed.
Rees has gone against theatrical convention in his decision to stage ‘A man…’ in St Mary’s Church, cementing the theme of Religion as at the heart of the action. But the aesthetic Church location brings with it certain repercussions, my main issue being the muffled sound quality of the actors. Rees has cast some highly talented actors; such as eloquent David Shields as Cromwell, and energetic Illey-Williamson (More). Yet much of the vocal quality is lost in the lofty acoustics of the building, ideal for the psalm singing choir, but not for clarity of diction in emotive, rapid speech.
Nevertheless, the implementation of tapestries does something to prevent the blur of echo, and the flamboyant Tudor costumes offer a delightful essence of the era. This is a play not to be missed, Tudor fan or not. Rees has created an opulent spectacle, delivered with devilish wit and poignant sensitivity.