The Last Wife
Playwright Kate Hennig
Director Mark Kilmurry
Photos by Phil Erbacher
Ensemble Theatre until September 29
Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP
The Last Wife could easily have been set in a mansion of Rupert Murdoch or Kerry Packer or any other powerful family, but the location is the sixteenth century palace of Henry VIII. Henry’s feisty, focused, determined and organised sixth wife, Katherine Parr, has moved in after she provided the king with disclosure of her assets and had him agree to the marital contract.
Henry’s daughter Mary is disenfranchised, other daughter Bess (later to become Elizabeth I) is young and hopeful and the young Eddie (Edward VI) is still focused on playing with his toys.
Enter Katherine whose priority is uniting the family and promoting fairness in the monarchy. At the same time she’s aware that two of Henry’s wives displeased him and were consequently beheaded. As Henry ages and accumulates maladies his confidence deceases and he feels increasingly insecure.
Throwing a spanner into the works is Thom who provides a romantic distraction for Kate, but her resolve is strong. As Thom, Simon London projects the necessary weakness and infatuation of his character.
There are some innovations in this production in comparison to the original.
As Henry VIII, Ben Wood is very Australian in the style of Shane Jacobson, and there are castings against type.
Emma Harvie, as Bess (Elizabeth I), doesn’t exactly have the complexion that would give her sunburn if she stood in front of a table lamp.
Emma Chelsey is in the male role of Eddie (Edward VI).
Mary is played by Bishanyia Vincent whose stage presence is somehow reminiscent of Boy George.
All actors are outstanding, and as Kate, Nikki Shiels gives a superlative performance. In the small Ensemble Theatre auditorium that has a capacity of only 216, we can see each facial expression and eye movement, and Shiels lets us in on every emotion that Kate experiences.
The Last Wife, skilfully directed by Mark Kilmurry, is likely to be another winner for the Ensemble, and deservedly so.