“I’m Henry the Eighth I am, I am”, so goes the song and, let’s be honest Henry is probably one of the most famous, if not the most notorious, men to have sat on the English throne. During his 38 year reign, Henry assumed the Kingship, of Ireland, and continued the nominal claim by English monarchs to the Kingdom of France. led the separation of the Church of England from papal authority, with himself, as king, as the Supreme Head of the Church of England and to the Dissolution of the Monasteries. He united Wales with England, had most of his close friends executed and finally managed to have not one but six wives in his desperation to secure a male heir to continue the Tudor dynasty. So much for the historical figure. What was Henry like as a man and what were the opinions of the wives about their liege lord? Writer James Cougar Canfield explores this theme in his play Ladies In Waiting: The Judgement of Henry VIII.
On the 28th January 1547, Henry (James Cougar Canfield) awakes in a state of confusion. He is in a dark room and all he can hear are the words “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded survived” being repeated over and over again, each word being said by a different female voice. Suddenly he is joined by Anne of Cleves (Kaitlin Gould) and the two of them spend time talking over their lives together. Henry is still disorientated and Anne seems able to calm him and it’s obvious there is affection between the two of them. As Anne leaves, Henry is joined by each of his wives, the young Catherine Howard (Margaret Gorrell) with whom there is obvious tension and Jane Seymour (Jessica McClellan) the woman Henry is obviously still in love with. Then it is the turn of the fiery tempered Anne Boleyn (Wendy Kenney) who takes great delight in telling Henry a few home truths about his legacy. Next up, is Henry’s last wife Katherine Parr (Kimberly Hoffman) and finally, the one he has been dreading all night, Catherine of Aragon (Hilary Kelman) Henry’s first and longest serving wife. Individually and together the wives need Henry to reconcile with each of them but, Henry, who seems himself as a king defined by women, has to decide which way to go himself.
At the start of the last paragraph I gave you a date. This is the day that Henry VIII actually died and therefore seemed the most likely date for when this play starts. However, there is a certain amount of fooling with time as each of the wives has information about the future – particularly Anne Boleyn. Additionally, Katherine Parr is in this place with Henry and the other wives when, in reality, Katherine outlived Henry by just over a year. So, the time thing was a bit confusing, as was the order of wives visiting Henry. There seemed no logic to the order of the visits, and to my mind, it would have made more sense for them to visit either in order or, even better, in reverse order. My final niggle with the writing was the language. Everybody portrayed on the stage came from an aristocratic family but their language seemed a bit too earthy, to put it politely, to my ears. I’m sure that among the royal family, there was a certain amount of swearing, but it did feel a bit excessive in places to me.
Having said the above, there were a lot of things to like about Ladies in Waiting: The Judgement of Henry VIII. I really thought the idea behind it was brilliant. Henry was a despot obsessed with his legacy who let nobody get in his way and I think a confrontation similar to this one would be awesome. I really liked the staging by Director Mitchell Glass who had Henry on stage throughout with the wives sitting in semi darkness watching him and whoever he was talking with. Kaitlin Gould and Margaret Gorrell’s costumes were excellent and I really liked that Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard were the only two to wear very dark necklaces, which seemed to emphasise their beheadings. Thinking about the acting, full credit to everyone involved. While there may have been some minor issues with accents wandering a bit, the cast all gave strong performances, especially Hilary Kelman and Wendy Kenney, two massively strong willed ladies with great personalities that really shone through.
All in all, I thought Ladies in Waiting: The Judgement of Henry VIII was a pretty entertaining show that showed a lot of promise. The basic premise behind the story is really impressive as is the presentation. There were a few rough edges but, unlike most productions, I did learn some interesting facts over the course of the show and can see a bright future for the story when it goes up to Edinburgh for the festival.
Review by Terry Eastham
Tier 5 Theatre Project presents
Ladies in Waiting: The Judgement of Henry VIII
by James Cougar Canfield – directed by Mitchell Glass, assisted by Sean O’Brien
What’s a Tudor monarch to do when he has to face all six of his wives in the afterlife?
Written by James Cougar Canfield (TETA Playfest Award Winner, Alley Theatre’s Houston Young Playwright Award Winner) and workshopped and performed by graduates of East 15 Acting School’s MFA Acting International program, Ladies in Waiting: The Judgement of Henry VIII finds King Henry VIII in a purgatory-like situation, where one by one he must confront and face off with each of his wives. Through dark humour, devastating truths, and powerful revelations, Henry comes face to face with what his legacy has become: one entirely defined by women.
Tuesday 29th March to Saturday 2nd April 2016 at 7.30pm
Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Adult themes and bad language. Recommended for 12 and up.