Katherine Parrthe LAST WIFE of King Henry VIII
Opening night of a new performance at Regina’s Globe Theatre is always time for celebration, but especially so when the lead actor, Sabryn Rock, grew up in the city. The acting and staging, as I’ve come to expect from the Globe, came together perfectly to create a compelling story of a blended family trying to make the best of things. And that isn’t always easy when the husband has had two of his previous wives beheaded!
While the YouTube video below is from the Belfry Theatre‘s performance of the play, this brief sample gives you an idea of how the real-life 1500s story of King Henry VIII and Catherine Parr is brought to life in a 21st century setting.
“Methinks love maketh men like Angels.”
While the real Catherine Parr may have used these words to describe her husband, Henry VIII, the man we met onstage did little to earn them.
The play revolves, of course, on the third marriage of Catherine Parr, who outlived her first two husbands and still remained childless. Instead, she takes on the task of bringing King Henry’s three children together to become her family. Mary, the eldest in her twenties, is bitter towards the King for tossing out the Catholic Church and creating the Church of England, which conveniently allowed him to divorce her mother. Elizabeth, daughter of Anne Boleyn, whom Henry beheaded rather than divorce, was in her early teens and Catherine becomes the only real mother she ever knew. Prince Edward, Henry’s only son, is just a small boy (his mother died after childbirth) who develops strong bonds to Catherine.
In history, their home is the Tower of London Castle (below), altough the plague kept them away from the city for much of their marriage.
“The Last Wife is a riveting meditation on sexual politics and women’s rights.”
While the events of the play are all historically accurate to the four year period from 1543 – 1547 of Henry and Katherine’s marriage, the stage set is in contemporary times with subtle reminders to the audience of the time shifting. A number of Katherine’s dresses, for example, are styled as shorter, somewhat modernized versions of the period. The marriage bed — which played an important role in the performance as well as in history — consisted of two old fashioned wooden tables pushed together and covered with a tapestry spread.
Henry VIII, who theatre critic, Richard Ouzounian, called “perhaps the greatest male chauvinist and spousal abuser in history,” is played by Oliver Becker in Regina’s Globe performance. With a long list of theatre and film and television (X-Files, Rookie Blue, MacGyver, to name a few), Becker convinces us that Henry VIII has an underside he hides from the world.
Mary (Anna Seibel) and Bess (Robyn Sanderson) could be millennials of an earlier era, while Edward (Haire Olmos) comes to life as somewhat mischievious and always the son Catherine never had.
Kate Hennig’s (playwright) greatest triumph in the LAST WIFE though, is in developing the complexity of Cathering Parr’s life and character, a character which was no doubt how she managed to outlive Henry VIII with her head intact (and marry the man she gave up to be Queen).
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