The body politic

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This month, two plays have opened in London’s West-End to critical acclaim. One writer, Mike Poulton, has brilliantly transformed the books Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies – Hilary Mantel’s Booker prizewinning novels – into plays. Acting in both plays alongside Ben Miles as the charmingly charismatic Thomas Cromwell, Lydia Leonard slipped into the powerfully seductive, but ill-fated shoes of Anne Boleyn late last year when the plays first opened at the Swan Theatre (Straford-upon-Avon). Dramatising Thomas Cromwell’s rise in favour with King Henry Vlll, and his power within the Royal Court, both works gained nothing but praise at Stratford-upon-Avon and have now found their new home in the Aldwych Theatre (London) until September this year.

Lydia Leonard is no stranger to the London stage; playing Caroline Cushing in the original Donmar Theatre and West End productions Frost/Nixon (2006) directed by the award-winning director Michael Grandage (CBE); and Jackie Onassis (Jackie Kennedy Onassis) in Martin Sherman’s Onassis at the Novello Theatre 2010 to name but a few.

As Anne Boleyn for the Royal Shakespeare Company has already reaped a surfeit of praise and undoubtedly this will only grow before the curtains are drawn towards the end of this year. With tickets getting increasingly hard to acquire, Glass managed to momentarily distract Lydia with some questions about this exciting role.

You trained at the Old Vic in Bristol. How did you find the move to London?
It was good being able to train out of the spotlight, I was ready to move to London, but it was a funny age when all your friends have scattered to different places.

Had you read ether novel before reading the script?
I’d heard of the books certainly, but hadn’t read them. I had a couple of months before rehearsals started so I’d read them by the time we started. They’re completely brilliant.

How did this prepare you for Mike Poulton’s translation of the books onto stage? 
Naturally, the script has to strip a lot of the book away, and I think Mike did a brave job with adapting the books. However to start with we’d regularly refer to the books, and while a lot isn’t in the scripts, hopefully it feeds in through the performances.

As both books are widely known, how do you feel acting in the first stage rendition of them?
I was daunted by the thought of taking on such popular books, I think there was a lot that could have failed, and it’s testament to the director Jeremy Herrin and all the cast that it has been well received in Stratford.

Mike Poulton has followed the narrative in each book, in such that he has created two individual plays running on subsequent evening or matinee performances. How do you prepare for the night ahead, or is this a natural progression of your character from Wolf Hall to Bringing up the Bodies, and then back to Wolf Hall?
Doing two plays has been great! I don’t want to moan but sometimes doing one play for a long run can occasionally feel like ground-hog day. Doing two plays keeps it alive – I notice it particularly on matinee days, when we get to continue with the story in the evening rather than repeating it.

Have the plays changed or developed from its transportation from the smaller Swan Theatre (Stratford upon Avon) to the Aldwych Theatre (London) where you are now performing?
There were a lot of rehearsals in order to adapt the plays to the space at the Aldwych. In Stratford we were on a thrust stage. There have also been quite a lot of small trims and changes to the script. But essentially it’s the same, but hopefully better!

You’ve acted in numerous theatres in London. Do you have a favourite?
I think my favourite theatre to perform in in London is the Donmar Warehouse, because of its intimacy.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learnt this year?
A lot about Anne Boleyn. And also to measure your room before you buy a mattress!

Who inspires you?
My friends inspire me all the time.

By Stephanie Clair

All photographs by Justin van Vliet

Performances of Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies will run until September 6, 2014 at the Aldwych Theatre. Best ticket availability will be throughout July and August, where day seats are available to purchase in person at the Box Office from 10.30am on the day of performance.

For tickets please go  here  or tel: 0844 453 9025.