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.