Historical Drama: “Wolf Hall” Opens at Theatre Jacksonville


Theatre Jacksonville, now in its 98th season, has opened “Wolf Hall” for a run during March 2 – 18, 2018. Support for the production was provided by Cavendish Partners. The theatre is located at 2032 San Marco Boulevard. For reservations and additional information, call (904) 396-4425 or visit theatrejax.org.

The drama is based on a historical novel by the same name written by English author Hilary Mantel, who has won numerous awards for her work, including Britain’s prestigious Man Booker Prize in 2009.   The BBC adapted the novel as a miniseries, which aired on PBS in 2015 and is still available for streaming. A staged adaptation by Mike Poulton ran in London in 2014 and on Broadway in 2015. Having seen both the play and the film, we found Theatre Jacksonville’s version truly a masterpiece and much more exciting than the film.

TJ’s “Wolf Hall” is directed by Will E.P. Davis who is now making his home in Jacksonville and has an impressive directing resume with stops in Vermont, Kentucky, New York, and London, where he earned his MFA in directing. When you come to see the show, be sure read his insightful Director’s Notes included in the program.

The drama is based on events during the life of Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) who became King of England in 1509 and ruled until his death. If you’ve seen the films “A Man for all Seasons” or “Anne of the Thousand Days,” you may have some knowledge of the political and religious issues of the time. The actors in the play use American English accents, with the exception of well-known actor Geoffrey King, who portrays Cardinal Wolsey. King is from Scotland and has played men of the cloth in several area productions.

The story opens in 1527 with Jordon Born as King Henry VIII, who is seeking an annulment of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon (Lauren McPherson). Although married for twenty years, she had not produced a male heir, and he wanted to marry the much younger Anne Boleyn (Abigail Hunger). When Roman Catholic officials refused to grant his request for an annulment, he broke with the church, appointed himself Head of the Church of England, and found an archbishop who supported his case for annulment. After his marriage to Boleyn produced a girl instead of the desired boy, Henry had her beheaded and set his eyes on the young Jane Seymour (Tzipporah Anderson) for his next bride. While King Henry had six wives, this play only concerns the first three.

The central character, on stage more than any other actor, is the former mercenary soldier Thomas Crowell, who is an advisor to the King and protects him by manipulating his legal affairs. Cromwell is marvelously played by Jason Woods, who is well known for his skills as an actor, playwright, and director.

This play is a massive undertaking, with twenty-three cast members, who portray a total of thirty characters. We can’t begin to imagine the dedication and hours and hours of planning and rehearsals required to make the story work.

Scenic Designer and Technical Director Tim Watson has constructed a huge two-story structure that covers the sides and center of the stage and is used throughout by the cast. The play is done on an open stage for the most part, with chairs, desks, and other props brought on occasionally. The play has thirty scenes, which flow on and off the stage like clockwork; the timing is amazing. It is indeed superbly directed.

And then there’s the technical and artistic challenge of the costumes. We were amazed at the wonderful period clothing designed and created by Tracy Olin and Curtis Williams, along with costume assistants Judy Gookin, Karen Harper King, and Barbara Williams.

This is a rare opportunity to see an outstanding play that probably will not be widely performed for two reasons. Professional theatres shy away from large cast plays other than musicals because they want to limit salary expenses, while many community theatres don’t have the resources to stage a show requiring many elaborate costumes.

The cast included Jason Woods as Thomas Cromwell, Geoffrey King as Cardinal Wolsey, Lauren McPherson as Katherine of Aragon, Abigail Hunger as Ann Boleyn, Tzipporah Anderson as Jane Seymour, Jordan Born as King Henry VIII,  and also Christian Douglas, Jesse Huffman, Neal Thorburn, Jodi Hansen, Mia Woods, Taylor Smith, Mark S. Wright, Joshua Turner, Alec Hadden, C. Michael Porter, Tyler Hammond, Matt King, Christopher Watson, Michael Ray, Gary Elgin Moore, Susan St. Denis, and Rhonda Fisher.

The technical team included William E.P. Davis (Director), Laura Mauldin (Choreographer), Tracy Olin & Curtis J. Williams (Costume Designers), Spencer Carr (Stage Manager),  Tim Watson (Technical & Scenic Designer), Brady Corum (Assistant Technical Director), Audie Gibson (Light Board Operator), Mark Rubens (Sound Board Operator), and Abigail Hunger (Jewelry Designer).

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.