Katherine Parr as forerunner
to modern woman
The Last Wife features an excellent cast skilfully directed by Eda Holmes
By Byron Toben
Those that were first shall be last and those that were last shall be first.
– Gospel of Matthew
The above quote, admittedly of another time and place, passed through my mind upon viewing the superb production of The Last Wife by Kate Hennig.
It relates, in fine theatrical style, the marriage of Katherine Parr to the much-married King Henry VIII of England.
Parr, the 6th and final wife, was embarking on a perilous journey. The first five had not turned out well.
The first, to Catherine of Aragon, was annulled, even though a daughter was born, Mary, resulting in a split of England from Roman Catholic Rome.
The second, to Anne Boleyn, produced another daughter, Elizabeth, but ended in Ann’s execution by beheading.
The third to Jane Seymour, did produce a male heir, Edward, only to see her die two weeks after his birth from complications.
Henry had selected the fourth, Anne of Cleves from a portrait but had the marriage annulled for non-consummation when he viewed her in person.
The fifth, Catherine Howard, met a death by beheading for alleged treason.
Thus, the track record did not look good for Katherine Parr.
However, Henry was getting older and needing a nurse/mother figure, more than a mere consort. Also, Katherine was well educated, skilled and tactful, so she survived and became the first woman to publish a book in English under her own name.
Shaw Festival vet Diana Donnelly is perfect as Katherine, championing her three stepchildren, even though secretly longing for courtier Thomas Seymour, adroitly portrayed by Stratford Festival vet Antoine Yared. It is essential to have a creditable Henry for this play, and it does in Robert Persichini, familiar to both Shaw and Stratford audiences.
The young Edward is ably incarnated in Broadway musical hopeful Alessandro Gabrielli.
Young Mary (later to become “Bloody Mary”) is Dawson grad Anne-Marie Saheb while young Elizabeth (later to become Queen Elizabeth I) is Montreal-raised Mikaela Davies back after a few years at Soulpepper and Stratford.
All in all, a tiptop cast assembled by director Eda Holmes, who displays, as usual, a deft hand in marshalling stage movement and scene changes.
Playwright Hennig gets away inserting modern colloquialisms into the 16th century setting, which would be jarring in lesser hands. The young Mary calls Henry, “Daddy-O” during a pique for instance, but it works.
Nice interview of Ms. Hennig by Barbara Ford is printed in the program.
The Last Wife runs at the Centaur until March 3.
Images: Andrée Lanthier
Byron Toben, a past president of The Montreal Press Club, has been WestmountMag.ca’s theatre reviewer since July 2015. Previously, he wrote for since terminated web sites Rover Arts and Charlebois Post, print weekly The Downtowner and print monthly The Senior Times. He also is an expert consultant on U.S. work permits for Canadians.