Ask Audrey Ask Audrey
Archived

The Last Wife

"intriguing, inventive ... unexpectedly funny"

Audrey review: A stimulating, smart-casual take on the court and sexual politics of Tudor England.

Text size
Text size
Add to favourites

The Last Wife

Date: 5 Sep 2019

Canadian actor and writer Kate Hennig’s The Last Wife is a stimulating take on Tudor England focused on Katherine Parr, the only woman to marry King Henry VIII and survive him.

Those who appreciated Kate Mulvany’s adaptation of Schiller’s Mary Stuart a few months ago will find it a fascinating prequel.

We meet Kate (played here by Nikki Shiels in her Ensemble Theatre debut) more or less at the moment she encounters Henry (Ben Wood), who takes an immediate shine to the soon-to-be-widow of a Northern noble. The man Kate would like to marry – court playboy and political schemer Thomas Seymour (Simon London) – can only look on, dismayed and outgunned.

Henry is no romantic (“People don’t want to introduce me to their daughters any more,” he jokes) and Kate – a rape survivor and thrice married – is no blushing rose. That Henry will get his way is a given, of course. His authority is absolute and his temper legendary.

But Kate boldly bargains for her future, nevertheless. Their marriage will be bound by the clauses of a contract. Her property will remain hers. Henry’s sexual appetites will be satisfied at her discretion, not his whim.

She will also have a role in the raising of Henry’s children; Edward, the young heir to the throne (Emma Chelsey); the tetchy Mary (Bishanyia Vincent), and the as yet unformed Elizabeth (Emma Harvie).

The dynamic between Kate and Henry is such that it’s hard not to be reminded of that other Kate, in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. The harder she bargains, the more Henry admires her. It almost promises to be a union of equals.

Almost.

First seen at the Stratford Festival (in Ontario, Canada) in 2015, The Last Wife describes the court and sexual politics of the 16th century as though it was happening in the 21st. Hennig’s dialogue is smart-casual in tone, peppered with anachronisms and modern day idiom.

At times, Hennig has her characters talk a little too much, creating the impression of a show spinning its wheels. For the most part, though, The Last Wife is intriguing, inventive and, at times, unexpectedly funny.

More reviews? Subscribe to our newsletter

Directed by Mark Kilmurry, the story unfolds with good pace and intensity. The play’s mercurial shifts from comic to dramatic are sharp and it is very well cast.

Shiels is vivacious and commanding as Kate mollifies her ageing bull of a husband while laying down the foundations for a future where women can assume the throne.

Wood is tremendous, pitching his Henry as an Aussie backyard tyrant. Henry’s failing body (especially his ulcerated leg, which is displayed in wince-inducing detail) only makes him more capricious and fearsome.

Vincent is excellent as the sullen, sarcastic Mary. Harvie is amusingly naive as the future Queen Bess. London is very good as the suave Thom Seymour.

The Last Wife is a little long, perhaps but those left alive at its end have, by that point, sharpened your appetite for another episode in this saga of women and power. Hennig has already written it, as it happens – The Virgin Trial. It would make for a bingeworthy double bill.

Content
Caroline, or Change
Add to favourites
ArchivedHayes Theatre Co, Potts Point, Sydney 23 Aug - 28 Sep 2019

Caroline, or Change

Audrey review: Elenoa Rokobaro blazes in a complex musical that refuses to sugarcoat the inequities at the core of its portrait of 1960s America.

West Side Story
Add to favourites
ArchivedSydney Opera House 16 Aug - 6 Oct 2019

West Side Story

Audrey review: Joey McKneely's faithful staging only serves to highlight how dated a show - even one that was radical in its time - can become.

The Real Thing
Add to favourites
ArchivedDrama Theatre, Sydney Opera House 9 Sep - 26 Oct 2019

The Real Thing

Audrey review: Sydney Theatre Company delivers an evening of quality stroke play on the smoothest wicket imaginable.

See More

More to see

View All
Sydney Fringe Festival 2019
Add to favourites
ArchivedVenues across Sydney 1 - 30 Sep 2019

Sydney Fringe Festival 2019

Sydney Fringe celebrates its 10th anniversary this year an eye-popping program of performance, music, theatre, comedy, visual art, film, dance and circus.

Fangirls
Add to favourites
ArchivedBelvoir, Surry Hills, Sydney 12 Oct - 10 Nov 2019

Fangirls

Edna is 14, and she’s in love with Harry. There’s just one problem: Harry is in True Connection, the biggest boyband in the world.

John
Add to favourites
ArchivedSeymour Centre, Chippendale, Sydney 21 Sep - 12 Oct 2019

John

A B&B. A cheerful host. A young couple whose relationship is disintegrating. Thousands of inanimate objects. Watching …

Rosaline
Add to favourites
ArchivedKings Cross Theatre, Kings Cross Hotel, Sydney 11 - 26 Oct 2019

Rosaline

A dark tale of juicy revenge and teenage obsession, based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Top