Wolf Hall has opened on Broadway to a mixed reception from New York critics, ranging from “tedious” to “compelling”.
The New York Post said the two plays, based on Hilary Mantel’s award-winning books, were “beautiful but boring”.
The paper said the six hours felt “even longer”, adding: “It’s amazing that a story jam-packed with lust, betrayal, greed and violence can be so… dull.”
However Variety’s Marilyn Stasio called it a “lucidly told, handsomely staged and emotionally charged production”.
She did find the second play “problematic” though.
She wrote: “Just when you expect the drama to move into deeper and darker political territory, it shrivels up and becomes what a lot of American kids took away from high-school history class – the salacious story of a horny king who chopped off his wives’ heads whenever he wanted a new bride.”
Wolf Hall Parts One and Two – about the court of Henry VIII and his advisor Thomas Cromwell – are based on Mantel’s Man Booker Prize-winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies.
The Royal Shakespeare Company’s stage version, adapted by Mike Poulton, drew rave reviews when it opened at the Swan Theatre in Stratford upon Avon before transferring to London’s West End.
A BBC television production, starring Mark Rylance and Damian Lewis, was also a critical success and is currently being aired in the US by PBS.
The Hollywood Reporter called the play “a mighty undertaking”, directed by Jeremy Herrin, “with propulsive energy; designed with commanding stagecraft by Christopher Oram and a superb team on lighting, music and sound; and performed with authority and an abundance of sly humour by a first-rate troupe of 23.”
Critic David Rooney added: “While it might fall short of the pantheon of all-time great stage events, Wolf Hall is nonetheless an impressive feat, a compelling drama played out across the canvas of a nation soaked in rain and mud and blood.”
However the Wall Street Journal’s Terry Teachout found “the acting is as devoid of sparkle as the script”.
He admitted he had not read Mantel’s “much-praised novels” but said: “I can, however, assure you that Mr Poulton’s five and a half-hour stage version of Wolf Hall… is competent but dullish, a procession of short, choppy scenes in which nobody ever says anything more memorable than ‘Bring up the bodies!’.”
But he said the play was “not without merit”, praising Paul Jesson as Cardinal Wolsey and director Herrin’s “efficient and effective” production.
The Wrap’s Robert Hofler said the play took “a good 90 minutes and one intermission to settle into what might be called a good drama”.
He praised Ben Miles, who plays Thomas Cromwell for maintaining “an implacable facade regardless of what he’s thinking” adding that he “rivets our attention for six hours” in “a masterclass in minimalist acting”.
New York Times writer Ben Brantley found the play itself “riveting”, calling it “the tastiest dish in town”.
He said it was “strictly for fun. That may sound like a weak recommendation to those who wear their brows high. But being fun in period costume for nearly five-and-a-half hours of live theatre is no mean achievement.”
Wolf Hall is due to run on Broadway for 15 weeks.