Review by Judith Robinson
Joseph Ziegler commands the stage in Soulpepper’s production of Kate Hennig’s The Last Wife. Ziegler, as King Henry VIII, is clearly a murderer in the throws of syphilitic or maniacal impulses – but when his heart is wrenched open by Hennig’s writing, and skillfully revealed by Ziegler, the audience can’t help but feel some sympathy for the man.
This is clearly the king’s show – though Hennig may have intended it to have been his last wife’s – Catherine Parr, played by Maev Beatty.. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann
Through the use of modern language and dress, and a singular focus on Henry’s personal rather than professional moments, the king’s dilemmas, fears and insecurities were brought to the fore.Ziegler became a type of Willy Loman – an everyman – every bit as much a victim of his circumstances and limitations as Arthur Miller’s lackluster salesman.
Sara Farb, as Mary, Henry’s oldest child, slated to later become the infamous Mary Queen of Scots, put in the strongest female performance on the stage. Farb’s compelling portrayal of the future queen who would not compromise on her Catholic faith, and refused to restrain herself in her fiery confrontations with her bombastic, dangerous father, inspired and empowered the audience. Although the play, at times, presented the theme of female emancipation in ways too modern to fit the period of the English Renaissance, Farb’s performance was convincing enough for any time period.
Yanick Larivée’s simple set and costume designs, and Kimberley Purtell’s soft lighting, helped to create an atmosphere of intimacy, and an ambiance of character revelations and shrouds of secrecy. The designers, and the director, Alan Dilworth, created a place where no one and nothing was safe. The king reigned and his whims were unpredictable and unreliable.
Perhaps this play is more poignant at a time when America is being led by an unpredictable man with an emotional temperament in many ways similar to Henry’s. Farb’s Mary provided impetus and inspiration for others to stand up and resist.
The Last Wife is playing at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto until Feb. 11th. Don’t miss it.