By Tim Collins
The Belfry Theatre’s production of The Last Wife is being described as a clever and complex re-telling of Henry VIII’s last marriage. But Celine Stubel, who plays Katherine Parr (Kate) maintains it also tells the story of women and their survival throughout the ages.
“If you think about what women were going through during the time of Henry VIII, they really had to use whatever they had to survive. When the play opens Kate is already in love with another man, but when Henry sets his sights on her, she has little choice but to marry him,” said Stubel. “This was not a time when overt feminism was possible, but it didn’t mean women were powerless.”
She added that the story is told through the prism of Kate’s experience and noted how the efficient dialogue and time jumps within the production presented her and the other actors with particularly challenging roles.
“Oliver (Becker), who plays Henry, and I are required to play out a lot of the unsaid happenings out in our minds to maintain the story’s integrity as the time line progresses during the course of the action. It’s very challenging, but hugely rewarding,” said Stubel.
Presented in modern costume, the historical tale as presented by playwright Kate Henning is a contemporary re-telling of the compelling relationship between Henry and his last wife.
Henning has moved the story into what feels like the present day through the use of contemporary costuming and language. The effect gives the audience the impression that the story is far closer to home — perhaps unfolding in a present day English estate.
“I’m deeply interested in the humanity of these iconic characters and I want to imagine what makes them do what they do,” said Henning. “It (the play) helps us to see women as a moving political force of history away from the battlefields and halls of office.”
When Katherine meets Henry for the first time, the notorious monarch, Henry VIII, has already married five times, having executed two of those wives and divorced two others. He is chauvinistic, flamboyant, and, in this version of events, not the aged and infirm lump commonly portrayed by historical accounts, but an active, if wounded, older man who is still thoroughly dangerous and unpredictable.
Add Henry’s existing offspring (Mary, Elizabeth and Edward) to the story and an intriguing mix of character and circumstance take the audience on an exhilarating ride through one of history’s most fascinating periods.
The play runs until Oct. 16. Tickets are available at 250-385-6815 or online at tickets.belfry.bc.ca.