Is there any difference in how a ruler wields power in their kingdom and in their marriages? Should the wife behave as a partner or as a subject? How much control can she enjoy?
The Last Wife is a modern feminist re-telling of King Henry VIII’s marriage to his sixth wife, Catherine Parr, who survived the mercurial monarch. The show is ferocious and at times disturbing with its overt sexuality. It aims to be controversial on the power struggles against and among women in a patriarchal system. However, a contemporary take on an historical period can be uneven.
The story of Henry (the excellent Robert Persichini) and Kate (Diana Donnelly,) while very close to the actual history, is told from her point of view. Kate works to make her marriage with Henry as much in her favour as possible. She accepts the maternal role for Henry’s youngest children, Bess (Mikaela Davies) and Eddie (Alessandro Gabrielli). She tries to build a friendship with Mary (Anne-Marie Saheb), Henry’s suspicious and embittered eldest child. Kate succeeds in reinstating his daughters in the line of succession. She struggles with her love and desire for the courtier Thom (Antoine Yared) who seems to enjoy manipulating everyone around him. But as she pushes for more power, like an executive of a major corporation, Kate is blocked and threatened by a political system that seems out of place. Death is the punishment instead of hitting the proverbial glass ceiling. Even after Henry’s death, Kate cannot escape the ongoing power struggles in her own home.
The narrative has a contemporary style, with modern costumes and vernacular, but the action exists within a medieval monarchical setting. This combination makes for a strange experience. The first act is choppy; the sections are more like vignettes than scenes. There is a lack of flow and rhythm. The second act is better, the tone is more heightened. The threat of death and violence pervades in the air, almost suffocating the characters. However, while things seem dire, it ends on a note of hope for change.
Ms. Donnelly is striking as the last wife. She captures the Kate’s complex feelings and motivations with bare truth and fierceness. There is no holding back what Kate experiences at every moment in every scene. Ms. Saheb is fine as the cynical Mary. Mr. Yared is suitably sinister with Thom’s inappropriate intentions. Ms. Davies and Mr. Gabrielli capture the naïve innocence of young children caught in a dangerous game.
Sets are beautiful; large panels of glass and mirrors that spins and hides characters. The effect is cinematic as characters reflect back their inner life to the audience.
A wife’s role in a marriage is never a straight line. It can be a push-pull for control. Sometimes one wrong step can lead to terrible consequences. Sometimes survival is the prize.
Photo Credit: Andrée Lanthier
The Last Wife: Presented by Centaur Theatre Company. Directed by Eda Holmes. Written by Kate Hennig. Show continues to March 3, 2019, at the Centaur Theatre, 453 St-François-Xavier, Old Montreal. For tickets call the box office at 514-288-3161 or go to www.centaurtheatre.com