Tag Archives: uno festival

Six Tudor roses open after death

Til Death: The Six Wives of Henry VIII
@ The Uno Festival, Intrepid Theatre
Written and Directed by Ryan Gladstone
Starring Tara Travis
May 29-June 1

Reviewed by Leah Callen

Tara Travis performs a theatrical feat in Til Death as she channels seven ghosts: Henry VIII and his six wives. The former queens of England, now stripped down to their skivvies, fall into purgatory. Poor Anne Boleyn is bodyless while the shameless hussy Catherine Howard somehow coaxed St. Peter to return her body (there is sex in Heaven, folks). The British bureaucratic angel informs the women that only one of them will be allowed to spend eternity in Royal Heaven with Henry. They must vote amongst themselves: who did their precious patriarch love the most? Let the irony begin as women who were divorced, abandoned or chopped up by the man fight to win his heart

The grandiose drama queen Catherine of Aragon slurs the feisty Anne Boleyn as being a puta, and the horsey Anne of Cleves becomes the naive butt of all their jokes. Catherine Howard is the oversexed valley girl of the group, missing a few gemstones upstairs as she flirts with St. Peter by swooshing her skirt. Katherine Parr remains the most stalwart and patient, having survived four husbands.

I marvelled at how one woman could emote such varying voices and I bought it, sometimes forgetting this was one actor. Each character has her idiosyncrasies; each even reacts uniquely to finding herself in underwear–from indignant to self-indulgent. This individuality carries through to physical gestures, accents, and nicknames. Catherine of Aragon demands her formal name Caterina while childlike Catherine Howard prefers to be known as Catie, Queen of the Fairies. The play is peppered with modern slang, which spices up the farce and makes this otherwise historical harem more human. Alongside the laughs are some poignant confessions from the Tudor roses as they open up to each other on the other side. We hear their romantic regrets and secret hardships.

Though these queens and their rivalries are familiar to anyone who knows the history, the ending is anything but. Things are not in Heaven as they were on earth. I think I was most pleasantly surprised by the prim Jane Seymour. The physical way in which she explains childbirth to Anne was too far-fetched for me, but I loved the courageous thorns she grows. The six ex-wives bond in unimaginable ways with uplifting results.

Personally, I was gobsmacked that the nymphet Catherine Howard wasn’t Henry’s first choice as a companion for all eternity. The kitten-in-heat seems like a philanderer’s paradise. Though the queen whom Henry once called his rose without a thorn was one of the most strongly developed characters, her superficiality robs us of hearing her pain about dying so young. Her ghost is said to scream to this day, so that seems an oversight. Still, Catie was the star of this show for me.

This Anglican Heaven is full of red tape, but open-minded about sex and gay marriage. As an Anglican, I had to laugh out loud at the religious pokes. Though the angels seem very forgiving, I still think Henry VIII should go to hell.

Leah Callen is a budding poet-playwright-screenwriter at the University of Victoria.

Swept off my feet by a lady and an iron horse

May 25, The Metro, Uno Festival, Victoria
Written and performed by Evalyn Parry

Reviewed by Leah Callen

SPIN is a fun trip through time and metaphor on a three-speed steed steered by the talented Evalyn Parry with Brad Hart as back-up. I can honestly say this was the first time I’d ever heard someone play a bicycle like a musical instrument. That alone is worth hearing. The play uses song, spoken word, and monologue in an ode to cycling and ingenuity. As we ride through the scenic past, we are reminded how important it is to keep on trailblazing.

Though I am not a bike lover (yet), I enjoyed the obscure stories of these biker women; SPIN really spoke to me. Annie Londonderry teaches us a lesson in guts: the first woman to cycle around the world taking only her courage, a pearl-handled revolver, and a change of underwear with her. She left her children and husband behind–all thanks to an alleged bet. And a song about Amelia Bloomer, an early pro-pants activist, encourages us to fight for our political legs.

Parry’s wordplay is both bright and dark; the word spin means progress and propaganda, freedom and commercialism. She shows us the front and back wheel of every story, the good and bad with ironic bitter sweetness. Parry keeps it real. Steampunky costuming was a spunky sidekick to her monologues. She stepped visually in and out of characters, helping us travel a few miles in other women’s pants. Film also added visual poetry and joie de vivre to the staging.

Overall, it was fascinating watching Brad Hart bowing spokes and thumping away on a bicycle seat as if it was the most natural drum kit in the world. Many of the duets featured Parry taking the low vocal roads while Hart took the higher harmony. Even the music had an unexpected, feminist twist. The rhyme and repetition of the poetry evoked the circular motion of a bike brilliantly. I was happy to tag along on this joyride in the audience.

There is humour and honesty here. As Parry says, the heart is the motor. SPIN moves through the outer spokes to the hub as her performance travels from the historical to the personal–and what you get is inspirational. Though the old adage saying, “It’s not the destination but the journey that counts,” is a touch clichéd, this was a heart-opening performance which reflects back on the past with fresh eyes, and compels us to carry forward with bravery. Parry asks us: why settle for friction when you can choose momentum? This show is about the female quest for autonomy, but it’s also about the magical freedom we all experience when we take off life’s training wheels and fly down unknown avenues under our own steam.

Uno Fest runs until June 1st. Full calendar available on their website.

Leah Callen is a budding poet-playwright-screenwriter at the University of Victoria.