Regardless of the sudden plethora of films about British royalty, their foibles and sexual preferences, nothing prepares one for the clarity drama and triumph of The Last Wife (written by Kate Hennig, directed by Eda Holmes). One knows very little about Katherine Parr, the last wife of Henry the Eighth, as she did not get her head cut off. Could not be less true. From its opening moments this gripping play about Parr postulates what a modern take on the final wife of Henry the Eighth can be.
Henry who is old for his era and suffering from a bad-smelling wound on his leg, courts Kathrine, and has a fit when she appears with her own prenuptial document. Throughout, she is his equal, intellectually and strategically. He slowly discovers that he is more than infatuated with her. He actually falls in love with this remarkable, beautiful, and educated woman. The central crisis of this work is his reaction to her immensely successful handling of her role as regent when Henry goes to war. She is almost beheaded for her strategic genius. Mary, daughter of Catherine of Aragon, advises her to use embroidery and then try sex as a way to win Henry back.
Robert Persichini is a wonderful and robust Henry, and his acting makes this king’s volatility believable. Anne-Marie Saheb gives a delightful performance as Mary. She has just the right combination of sarcasm, wit, and loathing to make her fascinating. She is delightfully juxtaposed with Mikaela Davies’ Bess, whose millennial-styled delivery works for the future virgin Queen of England. Antoine Yared was a compelling Thom whose sexual energy and understated delivery suited the frustrated contender for Parr’s hand. Alessandro Gabrielli was the perfect Eddie, literally growing with the role. His final monologue was rightfully ambiguous and beautiful.
The night and the show belonged to Diana Donnelly, as Parr herself. Her role fit like a glove and not a move, raised eyebrow, or word could be imagined delivered by any other actor. She strode the boards as a woman born to bring us this amazing and overlooked queen. The variety and beauty of her modern costumes added to the heightened glamour of the brilliant portrayal of the monarch. She was charged with teaching the king’s son and educating her two step daughters, for whose rights in the succession she fought. Donnelly is a master of nuance and her relationship with Henry, although initially difficult to believe, came to life and shone in its complexity.
Eda Holmes has chosen the perfect play to begin her season. Brilliantly written by Kate Hennig whose wit had the audience guffawing in delight, this play is a feast for our city to relish. The set was a bit over the top, and the blocking stayed all on one level. The lights behind the transparent flats were often distracting, and finally shone into the eyes of the audience painfully. The first act needed faster transitions and some trimming, but these are quibbles.
Ignore the weather forecasts, put on you cleats and head to the Centaur to seen this amazing play!
The Last Wife is at the Centaur Theatre from February 12 to March 3. Tickets and info HERE.