BWW Review: LADIES IN WAITING: THE JUDGEMENT OF HENRY VIII at Southwest Shakespeare Company
BWW Review: Ladies in Waiting: The Judgement of Henry VIII
Deliberate, passionate, kind, long-suffering, gentle; these adjectives describe the attributes of the women married to a petulant, insecure, cowardly king. Women who served their King and Country despite Henry's despicable behavior. Ladies in Waiting is a triumphant discourse that reacquaints the world with the women who became his legacy.
The play begins with the haunting entrances of the six wives. Each realize that Henry is dead and they will have the opportunity to speak their minds, ultimately figuring into Henry's judgement. As each wife takes her place, the audience hears the chant of how each wife was handled by Henry: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. It is clear that his wives loved him in unique and individual ways, but the wounds Henry inflicted on them are impossible to justify.
As Anne of Cleves, Lucy Atkins presents a charismatic and enigmatic character. Henry was married to Anne of Cleves for 6 months before they were divorced. Following their divorce, Anne became known as Henry's sister. He gave her wealth and land, but Anne laments that she will always be known as his "ugly wife". Atkins has a perfect German accent and a commanding presence. Anne of Cleves may have been Henry's shortest relationship, but Atkins perfectly presents the anguish Anne must have felt.
The next wife, Catherine Howard, is played by Margaret Gorrell. Catherine was Henry's youngest wife. Their relationship began when she was 15 and he had her beheaded for cheating on him. Theirs was a passionate affair, but Catherine could never give Henry what he wanted. Henry insists Catherine take the blame, but she holds her ground and reminds him that she was only a child. Gorrell handles the naivety and youthfulness of her character deftly, but also displays the maturity Howard no doubt developed as a result of her circumstances.
Jane Seymour is the third wife of Henry VIII. A kind and gentle woman, Jane loved the King deeply and it seems that he returned her affections. Jane bore Henry the son he demanded of all his wives, but she died shortly after childbirth. As sweet as this reunion should have been, Jane realizes that Henry betrayed her by lying about her coronation. Jane May have been sickly, but she was not weak and Melissa Toomey navigates this juxtaposition flawlessly. Toomey presents Jane's emotions with honesty which serves to remind the audience how unworthy Henry was of her.
Anne Boleyn. Intelligent. Beautiful. Cunning. Tenacious. Passionate. Bold. These qualities set Anne apart from Henry's other wives. Henry was threatened by Anne and their relationship deteriorated when she could not produce a male heir. Katherine Stewart is captivating from the moment she appears on the stage. Her demeanor is majestic, defiant, and sultry. Stewart has created a distinct representation of Boleyn that is refreshing.
As Henry's sixth wife, Katherine Parr was an accomplished writer and servant of the Crown. Parr felt a remarkable sense of duty to her King and Country and she served her country well. Her motto, "to be useful in all I do" guided her actions as Queen and her relationship with Henry. Played by Bonnie Beus Romney, Parr is regal, poised, controlled, and passionate. Romney is spectacular. The emotion she is able to present and control is inspiring. Katherine may be the least known of Henry's wives, but she deserves her place in history.
Finally, we come to Catherine of Aragon, Henry's first wife. She had been married to Henry's brother, Arthur, and was betrothed to Henry following Arthur's death. Catherine was loyal to her husband, despite his attempts to have their marriage annulled and following their eventual divorce. Catherine was also a warrior. She defended the Crown and won important battles in Henry's absence. Of all his wives, it seems that Henry's inferiority complex began with Catherine of Aragon. Portrayed by Hilary Kelman, who also directed the play, Kelman is splendid. She presents Catherine with a quiet surety. She knows she was wronged by Henry, but she made a vow to him and she was going to keep it. Kelman has mastered Catherine's Spanish accent, and presents the character with dignified grace.
This play was written by James Cougar Canfield, who also plays Henry VIII. Canfield obviously respects these women as Henry never could. The way he has written these characters allows the actresses who play them to connect on an emotional and physical level. If I'm being honest, I would have preferred Henry not be there to defend himself. His excuses and apologies are hollow, and ultimately, the women were not able to change him. Canfield does a great job as a whipping post, but he also handles the kingly rage and entitlement well. However, the strength of this story lies in the brilliant performances of the actresses.
Ladies in Waiting is excellent. The staging and set are simple so the story takes center stage. The themes it presents are still relevant centuries later as women struggle for equality. It should not be missed! The play runs through September 29, 2019 at Taliesin West, presented by the Southwest Shakespeare Company. Tickets can be purchased here. For more information about the play and where it will be performed in the future, check out this Facebook page.
PC: Tier 5 Theatre Project Facebook Page