The Last Wife: A not-to-be-missed production of Tudor history with a feminist twist

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Categories: Professional Theatre

Photo: Emily Cooper

Photo: Emily Cooper

The Last Wife

By Kate Hennig

GCTC/Belfry co-production

Directed by Esther Jun

Speaking truth to power can be a major problem when the power is absolute. And, from 1509 until his death in 1547, King Henry VIII of England played by his own rules, whether this meant changing his country’s religion for political and personal reasons, disposing of four of his six wives by divorce or execution or claiming that every autocratic act or seizure of property was for the good of his realm.

Yet, his sixth wife, Catherine Parr, not only outlived him, but also, as demonstrated in Kate Hennig’s fine 2015 drama, The Last Wife, frequently outsmarted him. Queen Catherine’s greatest achievement, from a historical perspective, was persuading Henry to reinstate his daughters Mary and Elizabeth as heirs to the throne of England (Third Act of Succession 1543).

As presented by Hennig, The Last Wife tells Catherine’s story through contemporary dialogue and a 21st-century feminist (sometimes didactic) lens. Catherine and Henry spar as intellectual equals. They demonstrate mutual respect. They love and fight passionately. But, when Catherine crosses the line to suggest they rule in partnership, she comes close to signing her own death warrant.

The dramatic device of melding past and present is effective, made more so by sparkling interchanges, the clarity of Esther Jun’s direction by and Shannon Lea Doyle’s economical highly workable set that enhances the action.

As Henry, Oliver Becker dominates, larger than life both by characterization and performance. Carefully nuanced, his king is equal parts warm, lovable and vulnerable and contrastingly fierce, unreasonable and bullying.

In the title role, Celine Stubel gives as good as she gets from her mercurial counterpart, demonstrating charm and warmth towards her stepchildren and maintaining dignity in despair.

The children, from the surprisingly perky Edward (Auden Larratt) — the future King Edward VI was a sickly youth who died before his sixteenth birthday — to the bitter Mary (Anie Richer) — foreshadowing her future as Bloody Mary — and the compliant and highly intelligent Bess (Mahalia Golnosh Tahririha) are well contrasted and effective in their roles. Meanwhile, Sean Baek, as Thomas, has the unenviable task of being as much a plot device as a rounded character, filling the need to be Henry’s punch bag/messenger, as well as Catherine’s erstwhile lover and future husband.

The Last Wife, which continues at GCTC to November 20, is a not-to-be-missed production of a dramatic portion of Tudor history with a feminist twist.

 

Director: Esther Jun

Set and costumes: Shannon Lea Doyle

Lighting: Martin Conboy

Sound: John Gzowski

Fight director: Nicholas Harrison

 

Cast:

Thomas………………………………………………..Sean Baek

Henry…………………………………………………..Oliver Becker

Edward…………………………………………………Auden Larratt

Mary……………………………………………………Anie Richer

Kate…………………………………………………….Celine Stubel

Bess……………………………………………………Mahalia Golnosh Tahririha

 

 


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