Theatre Now Review: The Last Wife - (2024)

Mark’s Score: 4.5 stars

Theatre Now Review: The Last Wife - (1)

Let me declare from the outset that historical drama is just my thing, especially when it is turned on its head. Therefore The Last Wife is a most highly recommended production. The trials and tribulations of Henry VIII’s Tudor court seems to still hold a fascination – all those wives coupled with the intrigue. The subject has been the topic of drama for over 400 years – an early example being Shakespeare who was wise to write his play some 10 years after the death of Elizabeth I as his collaborative work (with John Fletcher) deals with the divorcing of the first wife (Katherine of Aragon) and marriage to the second (Anne Boleyn).

Theatre Now Review: The Last Wife - (2)As the title says Kate Hennig’s play focuses on Catherine Parr – the last wife. However, it also features the daughters of those first wives – the Princesses Mary (later Queen Mary I) and Elizabeth – The Virgin Queen. Added to the mix is Henry’s only son (by Jane Seymour) – Edward. The play opens in 1543 and Henry wishes to marry again for the sixth time. The thrice married, rich and well educated Parr however is infatuated by none other than Jane’s brother, Thomas. Henry is wary of the influence of Seymours – fearing that on his death they will manipulate his heir Edward. Thomas and Catherine can only meet in secret – biding their time to get the king’s approval. To complicate things it is Parr who is sought by the king to be his new ride. She has little choice in the matter and what ensues is Catherine’s quest to make something of her role as Queen Consort and to instil her values into the Henry’s children and to unite the family. But how far she can go while maintaining her position (and her head) is at the pulsing core of this exceptional drama.

Hennig’s script is in modern parlance, thereby making the story even more relatable. Parr’s endeavours to provide rounded education and equal rights for Henry’s daughters will help create differing future queens – the notorious “Bloody Mary” hell-bent on converting England back to Catholicism thereby avenging her mother, the other establishing a religiously tolerant Elizabethan age. Catherine achieved much before tragedy befell her after Henry’s death. The machinations of this English court was most volatile, so much so that Hennig has penned two other plays dealing with Mary and Elizabeth – Mother’s Daughter and The Virgin Trial

Theatre Now Review: The Last Wife - (3)Artistic Director of The Ensemble Theatre Mark Kilmurry has directed this wordy play with great elan. It is well paced with all the suspense and humour brought to the fore. It is perfectly cast with Nikki Shiels playing Kate (Catherine Parr) with great intelligence and cunning. Throughout the play many an incident finds her the meat in the sandwich and Ms Shiels resolves her dilemmas with enormous integrity. As Henry, Ben Wood impresses mightily. He is gruff, uncouth, quite the politician and hilarious. The script does not shy away from the fact that Henry was a tyrant and bully, however Mr Wood’s embodiment of this possible psychopath never loses our sympathy. There are touching moments later in the play where Parr teaches Henry about love and respect while we learn how Henry had lost his way with these attributes. There is great tenderness in the performances at this point that brings a naturalness and modernity to these people’s inner worlds. Simon London as Thom (Thomas Seymour) appears to be the polar opposite to Henry. His romancing of Kate is very ardent and it is painful to witness him being sidelined by Henry and put on the back burner by Kate. But Thom is a man of his age and knows too well which side his bread is buttered. The boy-to-be-king Eddie (Edward) is played with gusto by Emma Chelsey who also has some very fine comic moments. Emma Harvie plays the teenage Bess (Elizabeth) with a wide-eyed innocence capturing quite perfectly a young woman attempts to cope within a dysfunctional family. We see early glimpses of the politician queen she is to become. An early scene is full of irony where she fantasises about the dress she will wear on her wedding day. Finally Bishanyia Vincent all but steals the show with her rich portrayal of Mary. Ms Vincent encapsulates a woman who has always been presented with the thin end of the wedge. Although Mary may not face banishment like her half sister if she upsets the applecart, she is left to stew under her despising father’s roof. This allows her some freedom to say what she wishes and we have a grand time lapping up Mary’s one-liners volleyed with precision by Vincent.

As prescribed by the playwright the production is in modern dress to correspond with the everyday language used. Set and Costume design by Simone Romaniuk is crisp and to the point. Costuming is emblematic of each person’s station and the looming portraits of Mary and Elizabeth flanking the royal bed is a fine touch. For this is a play with history told from the women’s point of view. Be it a re-imagining with sufficient historical fact, the stormy sea of calumny and sexual politicking these women must sail reflects to a large extent the travails that present-day women must still course. A wise play indeed and not to be missed.

Mark G Nagle – Theatre Now

Photo Credit: Phil Erbacher

Theatre Now Review: The Last Wife - (4)

30 Aug – 29 Sep 2019

Venue:Ensemble Theatre
Theatre Company: Kate Hennig
Duration: Approx 2 Hurs 30 Min (including interval)

Theatre Now Review: The Last Wife - (5)

Theatre Now Review: The Last Wife - (6)

Ticket Prices:
$38 – $78
plus booking fee

Theatre Now Review: The Last Wife - (7)

Various Times (Follow Bookings link)

By Kate Hennig

This stunning historical drama in the spirit of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, reimagines the dangerous sparring between King Henry VIII and Katherine Parr through a richly provocative contemporary lens.

Suitable for: Ages 4+ and their families

Theatre Now Review: The Last Wife - (8)


Theatre Now Review: The Last Wife - (2024)


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